KEB hosts defending champion Aizawl FC in season opener

Newly-appointed coach Khalid Jamil has set himself and his team the goal for the 2017-18 Hero I-League season.

Khalid Jamil's experience in winning the I-League could prove crucial in Kingfisher East Bengal's push for the title   -  AIFF Media

With the sole exception of the 2014-15 season, in which arch-rivals Mohun Bagan won the Hero I-League, Kingfisher East Bengal has finished in the top three for the last 7 years. It has also been runner-up thrice during that period. However, the Hero I-League trophy has remained elusive.

Thus the appointment of I-League-winning coach Khalid Jamil and some notable signings like Yusa Katsumi and Mahmoud Al Amna might just help the Kolkata giant go the extra mile.

“I like new challenges in life. I wanted to do something for Kingfisher East Bengal and hence I’m here”, quipped Head coach Khalid Jamil when asked why he chose to come to the Red and Gold brigade. “The goal is simple, that is to win the Hero I-League”, making his intentions crystal clear.

Prod him on why East Bengal hasn’t gotten past the line in the past editions, Khalid chose not to comment on past failures and concentrated on the path that lies ahead, “What’s in the past is past. Yes, it is a big challenge for us and we have to accept it with open arms.”

READ: No pressure, only ambition, says Aizawl coach Paul Meneses

With all the I-League sides sporting a fresh look this season, the coach showed full faith and confidence in his bunch. “I’m happy with all the players that I have in my squad. It will be a task not only for the juniors but for the seniors as well to adapt to a fresh system. But I think the team is highly capable of achieving its goals.”

“You also cannot take any team for granted as all are good and have done their preparations. So if you take any team lightly it can cost you a lot. Two new teams have come into the league and they can prove to be tricky for all of us”, he added on a cautionary note.

Read: All you need to know about the 10 I-League teams

Kingfisher East Bengal opens its Hero I-League sojourn with a home match against defending champions Aizawl FC on Tuesday (November 28).

It will be a melee of familiar faces with as many as four former Aizawl FC players, Lalramchullova, Laldanmawia Ralte, Brandon Vanlalremdika and Mahmoud Al Amna alongside Khalid Jamil, will line up against their former team in Red and Gold colours.

However, the previous season started the same way for both these teams as they faced off on the opening day with the spoils shared at the Barasat Stadium. The reverse fixture was won by Aizawl FC, with the season only spiralling downhill for Kingfisher East Bengal thereafter.

Khalid Jamil, having taken charge of the Red and Golds in the summer, had a fruitful Calcutta Football League during the close season and now has his sights set on the bigger prize.

“It is a big challenge. We need a positive start. We are going to play with a good team. Won’t be an easy match. I have got accustomed to East Bengal. It’s been a long time since I have left Aizawl. Even playing at the ground (Salt Lake Stadium) will be a challenge”, said the former Mumbai FC coach.

India internationals Salam Ranjan Singh, Arnab Mondal and Mohammed Rafique will have the foreign contingent of Willis Plaza, Charles D’Souza and Bazzou Armand to rely upon. Eduardo Ferreira and star playmaker Katsumi Yusa jumped ships from cross-town rivals Mohun Bagan and the inclusion of Al Amna makes Kingfisher East Bengal’s midfield an envious one this season.

Mehtab Singh has recovered from a fever and so has Laldanmawia Ralte after picking up a knock the previous day. Eduardo Ferreira’s inclusion in the starting lineup is touch and go.

As for Paulo Menezes, the Aizawl FC coach, most of the title-winning players have left for pastures new and he will have the hard task of building the team from scratch. However, the Portuguese has been with the team since August and Aizawl is also involved in the business round of their local state competition, the Mizoram Premier League, having played their first leg of the semifinal last Thursday.

Only skipper Alfred Jaryan continues with the side from the Mizo hills. Former Minerva Punjab defender Kareem Omolaja joins the side and with the induction of Masih Saighani, Andrei Ionescu, Yugo Kobayashi and Leonce Dodoz, Aizawl FC has put together a strong foreign contingent.

Local favourite Shylo Malsawmtluanga (injured for this fixture) and David Lalrinmuana, both former Kingfisher East Bengal players, will only make the familiarity factor between the two sides stronger. Liandala Sena, Andrei Ionescu and Jonathan Lalrawngbawla are injured as well.

“It’s a very good challenge facing East Bengal in the first game. All the teams want to beat the champions. We are ready to compete”, the Portuguese said.

He added, “We are still a small team compared to the likes of East Bengal and Mohun Bagan even though we are champions.”

Skipper Alfred Jaryan only had words of praise. He said, “East Bengal are the big guns in Indian football. Khalid Jamil is mighty experienced and has been on the circuit for many years. He knows how to get the best of all players. He will be a huge factor.”

The Hero I-League returns to the refurbished Salt Lake Stadium after 675 days and Kingfisher East Bengal will be hoping to to win their first-ever I-League trophy. They will face stiff resistance from Aizawl FC, who with a revamped side will be itching to prove that its title-winning season last time was no fluke.