The memory of its last triumph in the country’s topmost club-league fading in distance, East Bengal will look to give its best in the 10th edition of the I-League when it meets North-East neighbour Aizawl FC on the opening day of the tournament, here at the Vidyasagar Stadium, Barasat on Saturday. With the I-League set to be diluted in preference for the franchise-based Indian Super League next season, East Bengal will be aspiring to win the crown once.
The 97-year-old club has won three titles in the erstwhile National Football League before it was rechristened as the I-League a decade ago. In a bid to regain the crown, which it had last won 12 seasons ago in 2004, the red-and-gold brigade has redrafted Englishman Trevor Morgan after a break of two seasons. The arrival of Morgan, who had guided the team to Federation Cup titles and helped the side to the final of the I-League on two occasions in his previous stint, has revved up the spirits of the multitude of its fans who are expecting the 13th season to be a lucky one.
East Bengal roped in a new army of players while lopping off the likes of South Korean Do Dong Hyun and Nigerian Ranti Martins, who could not do much in the previous season. This will see the introduction of Trinidad’s Willis Plaza and Haitian Wedson Anselme in the attack, which has remained one of the key areas of concern for the team. The team also has a new set of Indians in the attack with Thongkhosiem Haokip, Nikhil Poojary and V. P. Suhair drafted in. In defence there is South African Ivan Bukenya, who will be joined by a fresh crop of Indians like Robin Gurung, Anwar Ali and also Rowllin Borges.
Aizawl FC, which finished eighth last season, will be hoping to do better under the stewardship of head coach Khalid Jamil. The team from Mizoram, which supplies a big chunk of players to the club as well as the National sides, was spared the relegation because of its good showing in the Federation Cup, where it reached the final last year, and the departure of Goan clubs like Dempo and Salgaocar. Aizawl will be depending on the form of seasoned Liberian striker Alfred Jaryan and Ivory Coast’s Kamo Stephane Bayi in the attack while Nigerian defender Eze Kingsley Obumneme gives solidity in defence.
Bagan-Churchill match shifted
Meanwhile, Mohun Bagan’s opening I-League match against Churchill Brothers FC, which was originally scheduled at Rabindra Sarobar Stadium in the city on Sunday, has been shifted to the outskirts at Vidyasagar Stadium Barasat after the organisers failed to secure permission from the National Green Tribunal. With the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium coming in a notified eco-sensitive zone, a clearance from the Green Triubunal was deemed necessary. The date and time of the match remains unchanged, informed a release from Mohun Bagan.
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