Kolkata, Jan 6 (IANS) A depleted East Bengal will look to start their bid for a long-awaited I-League football title with a win against Aizawl FC at the Barasat Stadium here on Saturday.
They will be without two of their foreign recruits -- defender Ivan Bukenya and forward Willis Plaza. The city giants have not won the national league since 2004 and will start with only one foreigner, Haitian Wedson Anselme, in their opening match.
"They (Bukenya and Plaza) have had long flights with layovers at different countries. It's not easy to judge on them just yet," coach Trevor James Morgan told reporters on the eve of the match.
Due to lack of training time, Bukenya and Plaza will sit out their first match. East Bengal are still to sign their fourth foreigner in the Asian quota. Centre-back Arnab Mondal is also injured and out for the first few games. Midfielder Cavin Lobo is also doubtful for the first game.
Under Morgan, East Bengal finished runners-up in I-League in 2011 and 2012. The British coach vowed to do all in his power to win the title this time.
"We were unfortunate in one of those seasons that we could not win the I-League. There were things that happened to us that we could do nothing about. I know the expectations of the fans are immense here as it always is.
"I would do everything in my power to win the I-League this time, and it's not only the I-League, it's every game that we play. It's not something I lose sleep over but I do think about it," Morgan said.
East Bengal will play on an artificial turf at the Barasat Stadium. Asked if that could be a problem as the surface can create injuries to players, club captain Mehtab said, "It can be a problem. It's not easy for the knee, ankle and groin. You need a lot of stamina. It's not an artificial turf of high standard so the leg gets stuck at times. You will see players injuring themselves after two-three games," the veteran midfielder said.
Aizawl were relegated last season but were brought back owing to their stellar performance in the Federation Cup where they reached the final and the imminent withdrawal of the Goan clubs - Dempo, Sporting Clube de Goa and Salgaocar.
Aizawl are coached by Khalid Jamil, whose teams are known to take the fight to the opposition. They have posed problems for East Bengal in the past.
The Mizoram side have Liberian striker Alfred Jaryan. Nigerian Eze Kingsley and Ivory Coast's Kamo Bayi are the other foreign players who will be expected to play a big role.
The likes of Jayesh Rane and Ashutosh Mehta have followed former Mumbai coach Jamil to Aizawl and have experience on their side.
"We will have to be alert defensively against a side like East Bengal. We all know what they can do," Jamil said.
dm/sam/bgPublished 06 Jan 2017, 18:23 IST