I-League starts on Saturday with high-voltage match

Kolkata: The fifth edition of the I-League football tournament kicks off tomorrow with title aspirants East Bengal taking on former champions Churchill Brothers in the inaugural match at the floodlit Yuba Bharati Krirangan.

The match will be played after the official inaugural function to be attended by the top bosses of the All India Football Federation and will be telecast live by Ten Action Plus.

Fresh from their Super Cup triumph, East Bengal, one of the four teams based in Bengal, will look to begin the tournament with a win as they are aiming to lift the crown this time after finishing runners-up in the last edition.

The other three Bengal-based sides are Mohun Bagan, Prayag United SC and Pailan Indian Arrows.

A balanced East Bengal under coach Trevor James Morgan missed the title to Salgaocar last year but among the four Bengal-based teams, the red and gold brigade appear heavyweights to lay their hands on the crown that was last won by them eight years ago in the form of then National Football League.

Morgan`s boys will be desperate to add the trophy that has been missing in their cabinet, even as consistency and maintaining a momentum right through the marathon league will be the key to success.

The championship crown has been rooted to Goa so far after the NFL was re-christened I-League in 2007-08 with Dempo winning twice in the inaugural edition and in 2009-10.

Churchill Brothers have won the second edition.

Besides the Goa versus Kolkata rivalry, this year`s I-League will be given some competitive edge with dark horse Pune FC, promoted north-east outfit Shillong Lajong FC and a revived Chirag United Kerala set to dish out some fireworks.

The Big Two of Kolkata -- East Bengal and Mohun Bagan -- boast of some of the most sought after foreign and domestic names of Indian football, including that of leading scorer Odafa Onyeka Okolie who has been roped in by the green and maroon brigade.

Mohun Bagan, though, have struggled in the start of the season, parting ways with coach Steve Darby but on paper they have all the ingredients of a top side with Subrata Bhattacharya back at the helm of affairs to work along side Prasanta Banerjee.

East Bengal, on the other hand, have a balanced and set force with top midfielder Mehtab Hussain, foreign striker Tolgay Ozbey being their main players.

Prayag United SC, who made it to the Durand Cup final recently, have showed their hunger, while AIFF`s developmental side Pailan Indian Arrows, after shifting base to Kolkata, have all the elements to spoil the party of the bigwigs.

East Bengal will look to start their campaign on a positive note in front of their home crowd, while Durand Cup champions Churchill Brothers will be equally competitive.

Yet to recover from his groin injury, Hussain will not marshal the East Bengal midfield tomorrow while defender Raju Gaikwad will also sit out due to an injury.

Impressed with their goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh in the Super Cup which East Bengal won against Salgaocar via penalties, the team will give the youngster another opportunity on Friday.

Tolgay Ozbey and their new Scottish signing Alan Gow will have to play in turns, while Orji Penn will be their playmaker.

Churchill too will miss their top Dempo recruit Roberto Mendes Silva who had to sit out in the Durand Cup final against Prayag United also.

The opening ceremony will see singer Nachiketa performing among other cultural programmes.


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