Banking on Brazilians

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

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. By Shreedutta Chidananda.

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.

* * * DARRYL DUFFY: I'M STILL LEARNING

R. RAGU

The pre-season in Dubai was fantastic. Spending three weeks with your teammates, training everyday, getting to know each other on and off the pitch - these are invaluable benefits. Everybody has gelled very well.

Playing under Zico (above) is fantastic. Obviously, he is a legend. To work under him was a big attraction for many of us to come to FC Goa. He is a good coach. He is always positive, and he wants you to always press high and attack. So for attacking players like me, it is very good. Our marquee player, Lucio has won every major trophy the football has to offer. He is one of the modern greats. To play alongside him and learn from him

every day is a blessing. Even at my age (31), I can still learn a lot about football from him.

AS TOLD TO SHREEDUTTA CHIDANANDA * * * DESAI LOOKING FORWARD TO SEASON II

Mandar Rao Desai (centre) had a stellar seaon with FC Goa last time.-V. SREENIVASA MURTHY

Mandar Rao Desai was a revelation playing for FC Goa in the inaugural edition of the ISL. The speedy left winger was one of the key attacking elements for the Goan side and immensely impressed former France World Cupper, Robert Pires, with his style. “It is not easy to play on the flanks. I know, because I’ve played on the left for a very long time. With young Mandar, Goa and Dempo have a bright future,” Pires told the ISL website.

Mandar, who played for Dempo in last season’s I-League, has fond memories of ISL Season I. “It’s good for me to play with some big players. We had a good season last year,” he says. “There was a great response from the crowd and the fans believed in us. We learned a lot from players like Andre Santos and Robert Pires last season.” Looking forward to the coming season, he says: “This year also we have a lot of new faces like Lucio, Leo Moura, Reinaldo. We will learn from them too and I thank Zico for believing in me and selecting me for this season.”

SHREEDUTTA CHIDANANDA * * * THE SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Elinton Andrade, Luis Barreto and Laxmikant Kattimani.

Defenders: Keenan Almeida, Gregory, Nicolau Colaco, Narayan Das, Raju Gaikwad, Lucio, Debabrata Roy and Luciano Sabrosa.

Midfielders: Mandar Rao Desai, Devadas, Romeo Fernandes, Pranoy Halder, Jonatan Lucca, Leo Moura, Jofre and Bikramjit Singh.

Forwards: Joaquim Abranches, Darryl Duffy, Victorino Fernandes, Thongkosiem Haokip, Reinaldo, C. Sabeeth and Vicor Simoes.