Bengaluru FC start defending the Hero I-League title when they host the highlanders Shillong Lajong FC (SLFC) tomorrow at the Kanteerava Stadium. It has been an astounding 2016 for the club from Garden City – winning Hero I-League title, soaring at the Asian-level by reaching the AFC Cup final.
It is a beginning of a new I-League season and the Steelmen know the importance to start well. Coach Albert Roca made it clear, “We have to go for three points and you have to play tough from the very first minute if you want to achieve the title again”.
The former Barcelona assistant coach added, “There’s pressure, challenge – that’s football, and we are ready for the moment. The fact that we have achieved in the AFC Cup will help our self-esteem tomorrow. We have to go 100% as the difference between us and them are not that big.”
Mid-fielder, Cameron Watson who stuck a formidable combination with Álvaro Rubio in the AFC Cup, will be missed in I-League. “Álvaro brought so much to the game – his footballing knowledge prevailed in the field. It was a privilege to play alongside him”, said Watson.
Coming back to I-League, he added, “This (I-league) is a new experience for me, I haven’t seen any I-League teams playing other than the individual players playing in the ISL. Owing to the success the club achieved last year, it is going to be tougher this season. For now, I’m concentrating on the Shillong game.”
BFC have strengthened their squad by signing top Indian players Harmanjot Khabra, Lenny Rodrigues, Mandar Rao Desai, and Arindam Bhattacharya. Roca sounded positive, “It is always difficult to settle down in a new team, but the new players have shown they are up for the challenge. They are experienced, played I-league for many years, and have already played with some of the teammates before. They know the other I-League teams and their style of playing, so it is time for them to show at the level that they deserve.”
Bengaluru FC have been tough for the team from North East, especially in the past three seasons. The only time Lajong won was at home that too a couple of years ago.
Head Coach Thangboi Singto, who has been with the team from the very beginning is appeared positive for tomorrow’s match, “It’s good to start with the best team, might be difficult for us, but helps you to know where you stand. We will come as the best we can.
Thangboi promised a good game and hopeful of taking points away from the home team.
Goals for SLFC came far and few in last season – that should be the primary concern for the SLFC coach. “This year we have strengthened in the scoring department, hopefully, the players on board will do the needful. But it is not going to be easy if you look at the teams, every team has toughened including the new entrants who will try to make a mark in the league.”
Other than their foreigners Dan Ignat, Yuta Kinowaki, Aser Pierrick Dipanda, Fábio Pena and keeper Vishal Kahit, SLFC comprise of players from North-East with many U-22 players flourished from their football academy.
The policy of Lajong from the beginning is to promote talents from the North East region. They have done reasonably well in doing that. Players from SLFC have progressed well in the years including Lalthuammawia (GK), Eugeneson, and Chuaante who are in Bengaluru FC.
Keeping the optimism, Thangboi summed up, “At the end of the day, goals win matches, and we need to better that. Hopefully, we’ll start doing that from our first match!”
The match is scheduled at 7 Pm tomorrow (January 7, 2017) and it’ll be telecast live on Ten 2.