Trinidadian hitman Willis Plaza would look to replicate his last season’s goal-scoring exploits when his side Churchill Brothers FC open their I-League campaign against former champions Punjab FC in Margao on Sunday.
Churchill captain Plaza ended the last edition as joint highest scorer on 21 goals, the same as champion side Chennai City FC striker Pedro Manzi, though the Goan side finished fourth in the league table.
The home side will go into Sunday’s match with a psychological advantage as they had the upper hand last season. Churchill had beaten the Punjab side 2-0 at home and played a 0-0 draw in Ludhiana. Churchill will look to repeat their dominance once again this season.
With the exception of Gambian-Dawda Ceesay, Plaza, Israil Gurung and James Kithan, Churchill will be fielding a new team which will make things interesting as the Goan team takes the field for their first match.
Speaking before the match, Plaza said, “We have a completely new team this season with the exception of Ceesay and me. The preparation is like starting back from the beginning. For now there is nothing special, just building of good communication and understanding with each player.
With a new name, Minerva Punjab will be looking for a change in the fortune as well, considering that from being champions in 2017-’18 season, the team fell to the 10th position in the points table last season.
The return of an experienced campaigner in defender Anwar Ali, a former India international, to the team has certainly boosted the team.
Punjab FC also have another familiar face return to the team in the form of the goalkeeper from Nepal, Kiran Kumar Limbu, who will be a major force to reckon with for Churchill in between the goal posts.
The other key names in the team will be 26-year-old Brazillian winger Sergio Barboza Jr, former East Bengal mid-fielder Sanju Pradhan and the veteran striker Dipanda Dicka.
Punjab FC coach Yan Cheng Law stressed on the importance of a fresh start and said, “The difference this season and the last is that the entire squad is new apart from 3-4 players. We have changed our philosophy to meet the standards and demands of the modern day football, knowing that most of the other teams have got foreign coaches and are going to play serious tactical football.
“We have a perfect blend of experienced players who know the Hero I-league very well and a bunch of fantastic young players who are currently playing in the junior national teams,” he added.
Chennai City eye win in opener
A new-look Chennai City FC will begin their I-League title defence when they take on debutants TRAU FC of Manipur in Coimbatore on Sunday.
Chennai City have lost some of their key players, owing to transfers in the form of Nestor Benitez, Edwin Sydney Vanspaul and Tarif Akhand who formed the core of the attack and defence last season.
It will not be an easy opening game for the Coimbatore based side as they look to put a new combination in place.
The defending champions will be looking forward to the experience of Japanese midfielder Katsumi Yusa who has joined the team this year after spending the last season with NEROCA FC.
At the same time, there will be high dependence on the Spanish quartet of star striker and golden boot winner Pedro Manzi, defender Roberto Eslava and midfielder Adolfo Miranda and Sandro to repeat the fortunes of last season for the team.
“I believe this season is going to be even more difficult than the previous one. The teams have been reinforced and are stronger but we will work together to defend the title,”said captain Manzi.
The Imphal-based TRAU, on the other hand, are the unpredictable force of I-League this season. To have qualified for the first time for the I-League only in their second year of existence speaks volumes about the ability of the team.
The visiting team is led by Nigerian forward Princewill Emeka Olariche, who was also the highest scorer in the 2nd Division league with 10 goals. He will be looking to replicate his form in the I-League.
In company with him are some key players which include the likes of 32-year-old Brazillian forward Marcel Sacramento, former East Bengal and Mohun Bagan midfielder Abhinash Ruidas and a direct transfer from Kerala Blasters, Loken Meitei who will have a point to prove in the I-League.