After their maiden appearance in the AFC Cup and the AFC Champions League, the Reds from the NorthEast are high on confidence and would look to carry their momentum on Saturday when they face Indian Super League champions Chennaiyin FC in the Round of 16 Tie of the inaugural Super Cup in Bhubaneshwar.
Aizawl FC finished fifth in the recently-concluded I-League standings, undefeated against Kolkata Giants East Bengal for the past two years gives a good account of their capability. After the departure of Paulo Menezes, the performance of the team took a dip under new coach Santosh Kashyap.
Despite a brave performance against Iranian Side Zob Ahan FC in the Champions League play-offs, they put on a poor show in Maldives against New Radiant SC in their first ever AFC Cup match.
The Reds have left their fairy tale I-League 2016-17 season back and are a completely new side now.
Chennaiyin FC, on the other hand, have bounced back in style after a disappointing 2016 Indian Super League Campaign. The Blues from Chennai finished seventh in an eight-team affair in the 2016 season.
They have turned the tables big time this season, and have lifted the coveted ISL title by defeating favourites Bengaluru FC in an extremely hostile match in Bengaluru. The win in the final would surely provide the Blues from Chennai a strong belief that they can overcome the Aizawl challenge.
Both the teams have never faced each other except in an unofficial friendly before the 2017-18 season in Chennai, where the game ended in a 2-2 draw. With the Round of 16 tie taking place in a neutral venue, either of the teams can come up on top.
Aizawl FC have an array of talents in their squad courtesy their ingenious strategy of promoting as many as an academy and local talents to the top. Players such as David Lalrinmuana, Lalrinzuala Khiangte, Albert Zohmingmawia, Lalthathanga Khawlhring, Lalchhawnkima have all come through Mizoram's Football System.
The big number of youngsters in the squad for Aizawl is both a boon and a curse. The players gel well with each other but may fail to step up on big occassions where experience counts.
The NorthEastern side has a number of impressive foreign inputs in Masih Saighani, Andrei Ionescu and Alfred Jaryan. They are versatile and have an expertise in holding possession play. Avilash Paul put a good performance throughout the league is expected to guard the goal today as well.
Santosh Kashyap, after a dismal season with Mumbai FC in 2016-17 I-League, would like to redeem his place in the elite list of Indian coaches with a win against the ISL franchise.
Predicted Line Up for Aizawl FC (5-3-2): Avilash Paul (GK), Masih Saighani, Ramdinsanga, Lalrozama Fanai, Laldinliana, Hmingtham Mawia, Andrei Ionescu, Alfred K Jaryan, Albert Zohmingmawia, Dodoz, Lalkhawpuimawia
Masih Saighani: Coming from the Land of Khurasan to spearheading the Reds Defense, Saighani has come a long way. The leader of the Aizawl defence in the recently concluded I-League, the Afghan would need to be on his toes and guide his back-four to thwart away any of the Chennaiyin offensive moves on to the goal.
Chennaiyin FC have surprised everyone by registering only four foreigners in the Super Cup. They have Jaime Gavilan, Raphael Augusto, Jude Nworuh and Mailson Alves. Being habituated to have eight international names in the squad during the Super League, John Gregory has a task in his hands to field a competitive team on the field with only four foreigners at his disposal instead of the usual eight.
Prosenjit Chakrabarty and Bedeshwor Singh have also been called up from the reserves to the main team. Jeje Lalpekhlua and Raphael Augusto are rumoured to be not available for the game due to unknown reasons. Hence, with several shortcomings of player unavailability, it would be interesting to see John Gregory's Playing XI.
Predicted Line Up for Chennaiyin FC (4-2-3-1): Karanjeet Singh (GK), Jerry Lalrinzuala, Mailson Alves, Keenan Almeida, Dhanachandra Singh, Dhanpal Ganesh, Bedashwor Singh, Francis Fernandes, Jaime Gavilan Martinez, Thoi Singh, Jude Nworah
Jaime Gavilan Martinez: Largely a substitute in the Indian Super League for Chennaiyin FC, the Spaniard would be the talisman for Gregory to string in key passes and set up the forwards ahead for scoring goals.
With the potential absence of Jeje Lalpekhlua and Raphael Augusto, the onus would be on him to take his side through.
With two I-League teams prevailing over Indian Super League sides in the Super Cup Qualifiers, today's game could be a cagey affair too. The game could very well go into extra time after a stalemate in the regular ninety minutes. We expect Chennaiyin FC to eventually scrape through in the end.Published 31 Mar 2018, 17:05 IST