All India Football Federation’s developmental side Indian Arrows will begin their I-League campaign against an in-form Gokulam Kerala in Vasco on Friday.

Gokulam Kerala are a much improved side from the one which was stunned by the Arrows, albeit a different outfit, last season.

The combination of Trinidadian Marcus Joseph and Ugandan Henry Kisseka is gelling well for them as was seen in their opening game win against Manipur’s Neroca FC at home.

Coach Fernando Valera sounded cautiously optimistic ahead of the game saying, “Our triumph at home gives us confidence but we must be respectful to the rivals and we know that Indian Arrows is a very intense team.”

On the plans for the game, he added, “We need to maintain concentration, be dynamic and try to control the game.”

The Indian Arrows, on the other hand, have a new coach in Shanmugam Venkatesh and plucky youngsters like Ashish Mishra, Ajin Tom and Vikram Partap Singh and it remains to be seen whether they have settled down as a unit early in the season.

They are no longer all of the U-17 variety with players now having had international U-19 experience as well.

Coach Venkatesh was guarded in his assessment ahead of the Arrows’ opener.

“We are a new team and are here to produce the future of Indian football. I would like to thank the AIFF for the opportunity. It’s a big challenge and I am very excited and confident and looking forward to working with this set of boys,” said the former India senior team assistant coach.

“They are not at the same age level as the senior professionals and physically, it will be a difficult match for them. However, we have our own strengths. Stamina and technical ability-wise we are good and we will keep working on them.

Northeastern derby

Neroca FC will eye their first victory in the 2019-’20 I-League season when they lock horns with former champions Aizawl FC in the Northeastern derby at home on Friday.

Neroca travelled to Kozhikode on the opening day but were handed a 1-2 loss by Gokulam Kerala.

Aizawl FC, on the other hand, faced Mohun Bagan on the opening day of the season and earned a point through a spirited display against the Kolkata outfit, as they held them to a goalless draw.

Both sides clash in a bid to register their first win of the season.

Aizawl FC were in action in the Mizoram Premier League on Tuesday and as a result will have a few tired legs in their squad.

“I am pleased with the performance of my players against Mohun Bagan and I wanted to get something out of the match, and we earned one important point,” Aizawl FC head coach, Stanley Rozario said.

Weighing in on their opponent, he added, “It’s a very tight schedule and I don’t want my players to get any injuries. Neroca are a good team and have a full squad with foreigners and will come strongly against us.”

Reflecting on their opening day loss to Gokulam Kerala, Neroca head coach, Gift Raikhan said, “It was a very difficult journey for us. It was the first match of the season. We travelled 3500 kilometres away from home.”

“We fought and we showed that we were strong mentally, physically and technically. We feel sad about the result but we are back at home. The match is very important. We need three points against Aizawl but first of all, we need to relax, recover and then plan. Everything will be alright,” Raikhan said.