Kolkata: All eyes will be on debutants AIFF XI, a team floated by the federation, when they face Durand Cup champions Chirag United in the opening match of 2010-11 I-League at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan here tomorrow.
Set to be the youngest club to play in the top-tier tournament, AIFF XI is coached by former Philippines national coach Desmond Bulpin, who has over 25 years of experience under his belt and has managed Queens Park Rangers in the past.
With the expertise of 59-year-old Bulpin, who groomed the likes of Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe at Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur, it will be interesting to see how the young bunch of AIFF XI compete at this level.
Under veteran Subrata Bhattacharya, Chirag United impressed last season, especially in the first-leg, and on a couple of occasions they led the table before slipping the radar in the return leg.
Having signed the likes of former Dempo goalkeeper Abhijit Mondal, Sporting Club De Goa striker Junior Elijah and defenders duo of Chika Wali and Sergey Tokov of Pune FC, Chirag United look a different unit this time around as they have shown the glimpses by winning the Durand Cup at the cost of JCT.
The side no more have the services of talented midfielder Jayanta Sen, who has joined Mohun Bagan, and the Brazilian duo of Eduardo Chacon and Edmilson Marques but still it looks formidable with a mix of youth and experience.
Among the youngsters, Mohammad Rafique will be the one to watch out for with skipper Arnab Mondal keen to make his presence felt.
Coach Bhattacharya stressed on the importance to win points in the first phase with most teams missing out the Indian players.
“We have seen how we lost points in the return leg last time. We will try to win maximum points in the first phase. We have been doing well and the boys have played as a unit. We just need to carry on with the momentum,” he said after their morning practice.
The AIFF XI have recruited a few players from their Under-19 side and the duo of Jeje Lalpekhula (forward) and Gurpreeet Singh (goalkeeper) will be the ones to look out for.