What’s the story?
It was the first press conference of probably the last edition of the I-league. East Bengal will lock horns with Aizawl FC in their home ground at Barasat. 24 hours prior to the kickoff it was a cautious overtone from both the sides. With a major overhaul in their composition, each side seemed wary of the opposite number in the pre-match press conference.
“I have a personal target, I have a target for the club, but for now it is only one match at a time.” That was the response of the newly appointed Aizawl FC coach Khaled Jameel. When asked about the approach for saving relegation, their new recruit Alred was quick to allay such a strategy.
“It is a new setup for the team. We have new players, a new coach, each having different aspirations. Playing positive football will certainly be our main objective”.
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East Bengal have never won the I-League and this seems to be their last shot at the same. Aizawl FC, meanwhile will be banking on their luck as they look to battle relegation in this edition again. In the previous season, the team from North East had been relegated but the relegation was overturned following an appeal as they were not the bottom most side in the league – a place held by DSK Shivajians.
The visiting coach did not mince his words as he acknowledged that a draw in the away game will be a good result. “Defensively, we have to be on top. We need to watch the first 20 minutes and then go with the flow.”
The prudent attitude was evident from the words of the gaffer as he faces an uphill task against the Calcutta giants.
East Bengal coach Trevor James Morgan and his favourite disciple Mehtab Hossain turned up for the home side’s press conference at the club ground. There was an air of discomfort when the absence of the 4th foreigner was highlighted. The sharp riposte of “No Comments” was well anticipated with the Asian quota still lying vacant.
The heart of the matter
The lack of preparation will be a testing factor for the new team of East Bengal. “Previously, we had the Calcutta Football League, then the Federation Cup and then I-league. So we had the same set of players playing for us consistently over a period of time. Now, thanks to the Indian Super League, there are a set of players who are always in the thick of the action and thus require rest. On the other hand, another bunch of lads (not playing the ISL) are out of match practice for a considerable amount of time.”
The disruption caused due to the ISL was palpable in the words of the coach. However, he was quick to point out that there are no favourites in the I-league. He drew a reference to Leicester City who were not title contenders by any stretch of the imagination but went on to win the Premier League. The respect for the new entrants (Chennai City FC and Minierva FC) was there as the coach seemed to be on guard before tomorrow’s game.
Mehtab Hossain was critical of the astro turf at Barasat stadium but denied claims that it would jeopardise the team’s chances. “We will see if it is a home advantage or disadvantage tomorrow when we take the field. I am a professional player and you can call it an emotional pledge, but yes, I have only one target- to win the league with East Bengal this season.”
The coach kept the cards close to his chest and did not divulge any details vis-a-vis the selection of the foreign players. Overall, it was a steady start by both the sides before their kick-off in the inaugural tie of the 10th edition of I-League. The artificial turf will play a significant role and the away side will be content to snatch home a point.
This being touted as the last edition of the league, it will be the last chance for the Calcutta giants to lay their hands on the trophy. Whether the home side will go for the kill or play out a safe draw on the synthetic turf is an issue worth deliberating. But for Mehtab and Co. there shouldn’t be any thought apart from a win.