Debutants NEROCA FC look forward to Minerva challenge
Ludhiana, Nov 30 (PTI) The first club from Manipur to qualify for the I-League, NEROCA FC begin their journey in the country's top-tier football with a match against Minerva Punjab at the Guru Nanak Stadium here tomorrow.
Minerva Punjab held Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan to a draw at home in their last match and will now host the newly promoted NEROCA FC in their second game.
The home side played a tactical game against Mohun Bagan as they followed a man-marking strategy which neutralized the opposition attack for most parts of the game.
Abhishek Ambekar, captain Sukhev and Kassim performed exceptionally well while half time substitute Lago made an instant impact and made life difficult for Mohun Bagan defence.
Minerva Punjab head coach Wankhem Khogen Singh was happy with the squad's performance.
"We were excellent in the second half against Mohun Bagan. If we keep the same form we can surely collect three points tomorrow," said Singh, himself a Manipuri.
NEROCA, on the other hand, are playing their first game of the season and that too an away one in Ludhiana, which is almost 2700 kms far from their base in Imphal. They had qualified for the I-League after winning the second division I-League.
The Manipur side have been strengthened by the addition of attacking midfielder Akhlidin Israilov who hails from Kyrgyzstan and has played for Dynamo Kyiv and Dnipro of Urkraine.
But one thing they will surely miss is their home fans which served them as their 12th man for whole of their second division campaign. However, they would still be a very dangerous team and should not be taken lightly.
Asked about his side's maiden campaign in the I-League, NEROCA head coach Gift Raikhan said he will go game by game.
"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 2nd division and that too unbeaten throughout the season," he said.
"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 three points," he added.
Minerva have been unbeaten against NEROCA. In 2015-16 second division I-League, Minerva managed to beat NEROCA at home 3-2 and drew the second match.
But Raikhan simply brushed off the statistics and said, "Past is past. Let's focus on what's about to come," he said