Bengaluru FC favourites to retain I-League title
The defending champions take on Dempo in the first game in Bangalore on Saturday, 17 January
Bengaluru, Jan 16 The eighth Hero I-League kicks off here Saturday night with defending champions Bengaluru FC taking on Goa's Dempo in a repeat of last Sunday's Federation Cup final that the former won. The 2015 edition was formally launched here on Friday with the rival skippers, Sunil Chhetri and Clifford Miranda in attendance along with Hero I-League chairman AR Khaleel, All-India Football Federation (AIFF) General Secretary Kushal Das and Sunando Dhar, CEO, I-League.
Bengaluru FC, who are unbeaten against Dempo in their previous three meetings, appear confident of extending their dominance over the Goan outfit, a former three times champions, but currently in the process of rebuilding.
Chhetri, also the India captain, exuded confidence on the eve of the new I-League season that follows the Federation Cup held in Goa and prior to that the hectic 76-day inaugural India Super League (ISL), and did not waste the opportunity to remind Clifford Miranda of Sunday's 2-1 triumph.
"We won the Federation Cup, yes, we won the Federation Cup," asserted Chhetri, looking squarely at Miranda, though it was obviously more in jest but with shades of mind games.
"Being the champions and playing at home, the pressure will be on us for sure, but our coach (Ashley Westwood) has told us to focus more on performance than the result.
"We have had great battles with Dempo who are the best opponents, but we will be going into the game with a positive frame of mind," said Chhetri who in the seasons gone by had played for Dempo.
Bengaluru FC have the best team in India: Dempo captain Miranda
In response, winger Miranda who also has donned India colours with distinction, put on a brave face and said: "Bengaluru FC is the best team in India and the team to beat. Ours is a young side, but we are here to win."
Saturday's game is unlikely to be any different than the rousing Federation Cup final the teams played last Sunday in Goa with Bengaluru snatching a 2-1 win in a game marked by fast pace, crunching tackles and goal-mouth action.
Bengaluru FC, who won the I-League title on debut last season, have further strengthened the team with a couple of young recruits in the past week, 18-year-old striker Udanta Singh, a product of the Tata Football Academy, and experienced midfielder Eugeneson Lyngdoh, the former skipper of Rangdajied United, besides England's Joshua Walker, a former junior international.
With their key players such as Chhetri, forwards Sean Rooney and Robin Singh, defenders John Johnson and Curtis Osano, who all played critical roles last season's I-League title triumph, in top form Bengaluru FC will start odds-on favourites Saturday.
The venue has been shifted to the refurbished Sree Kanteerava Stadium in the heart of the city since the ageing Bangalore Football Stadium is set for major renovation in a bid to host the 2017 FIFA Junior World Cup matches.