FC Goa banking on Brazilians

With his own back-room staff and players of his choice, Zico believes he has the team to win the second season of the ISL. Fitness of the foreign stars was a genuine issue last year. This season, FC Goa thus went on an extended pre-season trip to the UAE.

FC Goa players during an unveiling ceremony at the Tilak Maidan in Vasco, Goa.   -  FC Goa

After defeat in the semi-finals last season, FC Goa will be determined to go all the way this time. Zico, who last year did not have the squad he wanted — and went on record to say the international players that he did have were not fit enough — has assembled a group of his choice now.

Only seven players remain from the 2014 squad of 27. This year’s 26-man squad has 19 new faces, with seven Brazilians among them. Arthur Papas began last season as Zico’s assistant but quit midway through the campaign for “health reasons”. Vanucci Fernando, another Brazilian, joined as the assistant. This year, Zico has brought on board Moraci Sant’anna, a conditioning coach who has worked with the Brazilian national team through numerous World Cup campaigns.

With his own back-room staff (five Brazilians) and players of his choice, Zico believes he has the team to win the second season of the ISL. Fitness of the foreign stars was a genuine issue last year. This season, FC Goa thus went on an extended pre-season trip to the UAE. They spent three weeks there, training at the Spanish Soccer Schools (SSS) grounds in the Dubai Sports City (DSC) in Dubai, before playing four friendly matches.

Goa drew 2-2 with Al Khaleej and 1-1 with Ajman Club, defeated Al Shabab 2-1, before losing to Hatta Club 2-4. The Brazilian striker Reinaldo da Oliveira scored three goals in the games, the Spaniard Jofre Mateu Gonzalez, signed from Atletico de Kolkata, two, and Victor Simoes and C. S. Sabeeth once each. It augurs well for the new season.

There is no denying that Zico’s presence helps attract a higher pedigree of players to FC Goa. Lucio, the former Inter and Bayern Munich star, is the marquee player and he should be solid in defence even at 37. He and the Frenchman Gregory Arnolin (the only foreigner retained) will form a strong centre-half pairing. The 21-year-old former Roma defensive midfielder Jonatan Lucca will be a vital addition, as will Jofre in an attacking role.

Reinaldo and Victor Simoes should be good up front. There is a good crop of Indian players too, in Narayan Das, Mandar Rao Desai, Pronay Halder, Romeo Fernandes and the tall striker Thongkhosiem Haokip. In the friendly matches, Laxmikant Kattimani and Elinton Andrade alternated in goal. It remains to be seen who will get the nod.

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