I-League 2017: Aizawl FC to begin title defence against East Bengal

ANI | Updated: Nov 27, 2017 18:22 IST

Kolkata [India], November 27 (ANI): Defending champions Aizawl FC will begin their 2017-18 I-League campaign against East Bengal at the Vivekananda Yuvabharati Krirangan in Kolkata on Tuesday.

It will be a melee of familiar faces with as many as four former Aizawl FC players--Lalramchullova, Laldanmawia Ralte, Brandon Vanlalremdika and Mahmoud Al Amna alongside Khalid Jamil--will line up against the Khalid Jamil's side.

However, the previous season started the same way for both the teams as they faced off on the opening day with the spoils shared at the Barasat Stadium. The reverse fixture was won by Aizawl FC, the season only spiralling downhill for Kingfisher East Bengal from there and this time they would hope to avenge their loss.

"It is a big challenge. We need a positive start. We are going to play with a good team. Won't be an easy match. I have got accustomed to East Bengal. It's been a long time since I have left Aizawl. Even playing at the ground (Salt Lake Stadium) will be a challenge," said former Mumbai FC coach Jamil.

India internationals Salam Ranjan Singh, Arnab Mondal and Mohammed Rafique will have the foreign contingent of Willis Plaza, Charles D'Souza and Bazzou Armand to rely upon. Eduardo Ferreira and star playmaker Katsumi Yusa jumped ships from cross-town rivals Mohun Bagan and the inclusion of Al Amna makes Kingfisher East Bengal's midfield an envious one this season.

Mehtab Singh has recovered from a fever and so has Laldanmawia Ralte after picking up a knock the previous day. Eduardo Ferreira's inclusion in the starting line-up is a touch and go case.

As for Paulo Menezes, most of the title-winning players have left for pastures new and he will have the hard task of building the team from scratch. However, the Portuguese has been with the team since August and Aizawl are also involved in the business round of their local state competition, the Mizoram Premier League, having played their first leg of the semifinal last Thursday.

Only skipper Alfred Jaryan continues with the side from the Mizo hills. Former Minerva Punjab defender Kareem Omolaja joins the side and with the induction of Masih Saighani, Andrei Ionescu, Yugo Kobayashi and Leonce Dodoz, Aizawl FC have mustered up a strong foreign contingent.

Local favourite Shylo Malsawmtluanga (injured for the game) and David Lalrinmuana, both former Kingfisher East Bengal players will only make the familiarity factor between the two sides stronger. Liandala Sena, Andrei Ionescu and Jonathan Lalrawngbawla are injured as well.

"It's a very good challenge facing East Bengal in the first game. All the teams want to beat the champions. We are ready to compete", the Portuguese said.

He added, "We are still a small team compared to the likes of East Bengal and Mohun Bagan even though we are champions."

Skipper Alfred Jaryan only had words of praise. He said, "East Bengal are the big guns in Indian football. Khalid Jamil is mighty experienced and has been on the circuit for many years. He knows how to get the best of all players. He will be a huge factor."

The I-League returns to the refurbished Salt Lake Stadium after 675 days and Kingfisher East Bengal will be hoping to stamp the early authority in their bid to win their first-ever I-League trophy.

They will face stiff resistance from Aizawl FC, who with a revamped side will be itching to prove that their title-winning season last time was no fluke.(ANI)