Minerva faces NEROCA in the latter’s I-League debut

Minerva Punjab managed only a draw in its last home match, against Mohun Bagan.

NEROCA FC will become the first-ever Manipuri club to play in the top division of Indian football

On Friday, December 1, we will perhaps see two of the youngest squads in the history of I-League face off, with Minerva Punjab taking on NEROCA FC in Guru Nanak Stadium, Ludhiana, Punjab.

Minerva Punjab held Kolkata giant Mohun Bagan to a draw at home in its last fixture and will now host the newly-promoted NEROCA F.C., which is also the first-ever club from Manipur to take part in the top division of Indian football.

The home side was tactically on the money against Mohun Bagan, as they followed a man-marking strategy which neutralised the Mohun Bagan attack for most parts of the game. Abhishek Ambekar, Captain Sukhdev and Kassim performed exceptionally well while half-time substitute Lago made an instant impact and made life difficult for the Mohun Bagan defence.

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Minerva Punjab head coach Wankhem Khogen Singh was happy with how his team fared on Saturday (November 25).

“We were excellent in the second half against Mohun Bagan. If we keep the same form we can surely collect 3 points tomorrow,” he told the reporters in the pre-match press conference.

NEROCA, on the other hand, is playing its first match of the season and that too away in Ludhiana, Punjab, almost 2700 Kms far from Imphal, Manipur. Its strength will be revealed, especially with the addition of attacking midfielder Akhlidin Israilov, who hails from Kyrgyzstan and has played for Dynamo Kyiv and Dnipro of Urkraine. What it will, however, miss is the home fans, who served as the 12th man for the whole of its second division campaign.

On being asked about their maiden campaign in I-League, NEROCA head coach Gift Raikhan said his team will take it on a match-by-match basis.

“Two years ago we and Minerva Punjab both tried to win the Second Divison I-League, that year Minerva were successful but last year we managed to win the Second Division and that too unbeaten throughout the season. Both Minerva and NEROCA are very young squads but we also have experienced players in Gouramangi Singh and Sushil Singh. It will be interesting to watch them battle for 3 points,” he added.

If we look at the stats, Minerva is unbeaten against NEROCA. In the 2015-16 Second Division I-League, Minerva managed to beat NEROCA at home by 3-2 and drew the second match. But Raikhan simply brushed off the stats and said, “Past is past. Let’s focus on what’s about to come”.

This highly-anticipated match will kick off at 5:30 PM tomorrow (December 1).