Margao: Pune FC will be eager to kick off their Durand Cup campaign with a win when they face Goan side Churchill Brothers in their quarterfinal stage Group-IV opener at the Raia Sports Complex here on Friday.
The game that will be Pune FC's first official game of the season will also be coach Karim Bencherifa's first competitive game since joining in July and the Moroccan is cautious in his approach.
Pune FC, who face Churchill Brothers for the first time in the Durand Cup, will be confident going into the clash after a long preseason which has seen them travel across the country to Goa, Mumbai and New Delhi.
Moreover, Pune FC have already completed a week-long training programme in Goa ahead of the competition in order to get acclimatised to the conditions. "The spirit in the camp is fantastic. Everyone is looking forward to start the first competition. It won't be an easy game, but I have confidence in my boys," said Bencherifa after a light training session in the morning at the Benaulim Football Ground which has been the team's base.
Speaking on the eve of the clash, skipper Arata Izumi said, "The preseason was long but it was planned really well in a systematic way. The aim was to keep our fitness at peak for this tournament. We are prepared mentally and physically for this challenge."
With no injuries to worry about, Bencherifa will have a full 20-man squad at disposal. The new look squad consists of eight new faces in keeper Moniruzzaman Ansari, defenders Luciano Sabrosa, Raju Yumnam, Matthew Gonsalves, midfielders Ryuji Sueoka and Eric Brown, along with attackers Bineesh Balan and Shoaib Syed.
On the other hand, Churchill Brothers come into the game having recently finished their commitments in the Goa Pro-League and carry the experience of playing competitive matches. The home side will be relying on their talismanic striker and former I-League top scorer Odafa Okolie to lead their frontline.
While Bencherifa will be up against the side he first coached in India, it will also be the first time Bineesh Balan and Raju Yumnam face their former team having switched sides in the summer.