Last year’s I-League champions Churchill have a chance to get their season up and running but Bagan will be anything but pushoversIt hasn’t been an enlightening start for either Churchill Brothers or Mohun Bagan considering their pedigree. The current I-League title holders, Churchill, disastrously crashed out in a tame loss to Salgaocar FC in the opening fixture of the weekend and 2013-14 season, while the Maroons of Mohun Bagan were held by a refreshed and rebooted Bengaluru FC.
However both these teams have a second opportunity to restart their season appropriately when they clash in the first encounter of the second week of the I-League season.
Coach Mariano Dias has promised his team will go all-out in a bid to resurrect themselves after an opening weekend debacle, though, his team continue to flounder with a lengthy injury list.
“The whole team did not click. Maybe he will be ready for the next match and our new Syrian signing (Ahmad Al Kaddour) will also start. We will put up a good show in the next match,” were Dias’ words of promise.
Churchill Brothers technical director Sukhwinder Singh also chipped in to air his views on a juicy encounter, opining, "The first thing in this league is that you cannot tag any team as underdogs, and secondly everybody sees Mohun Bagan with respect. This is a very tough league. We cannot take results before the match. Our target is to give our best. You cannot say who will get three points or one point or zero.
"Henri Antchouet and Hugo Machado have recovered from their injuries and could start against Mohun Bagan. Denzil Franco has recovered but we may not play him in the first half. (Last season, Churchill lost their first match against Dempo but went on to win the league) Maybe that will happen tomorrow."
He must realize, however, that the idols of yesteryear, Mohun Bagan, look like they have their gears ready to engage and thrust the team forward under coach Karim Bencherifa. A fighting side, they showed their resolve after nailing an equalizer in the 90th minute of their match against newcomers Bengaluru FC.
"Every match is a big match. It's the second match of the season. [There is] still a long way to go. Of course, we are looking forward to get our first win. If you look at the schedule of the I-League [for Mohun Bagan], it's not easy to have back-to-back away games. We played in Bangalore, now in Goa, then we go to Kolkata, then we have to go again to Pune.
"It's difficult, but I'm very happy with the team. The character of the team is there and we'll try our best to get three points tomorrow," explained coach Karim Bencherifa, who is evidently hoping his team will have the bit right between their teeth.
There wasn't good news for him on the personnel front though with injuries playing having with important members of the squad. "Miss Odafa? Very much. He's the key player for us. He's the one who finishes our chances. Especially when we do create a lot of chances, we need to finish those chances. But, of course, I'm happy with the contribution of Eric Muranda, Sabeeth and all the strikers that we have.
"Manish Bhargav is also injured. So these (Odafa and Bhargav) are the two injuries that we have."
A close tactical battle could ensue which sees all the newest recruits of these clubs having to fight for scraps until a good opportunity comes their way.
The last five encounters between the I-League rivals have seen the Mariners from Kolkata hold the edge over Churchill with two wins and two draws while the Red Machines from Goa have only won once, last April.
This could be a right stage for Dias to set right official records, while Mohun Bagan will be awaiting their chance to pour cold water over Churchill's momentum. A right thriller is in store.
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