Bagan start as favourites vs Churchill in I-League opener

Kolkata: Former champions Mohun Bagan will look to brush aside off-field problems and start their campaign as favourites against Churchill Brothers in an I-League football tournament encounter at the Barasat Stadium on Sunday.

Bagan, who were supposed to play at the Rabindra Sarovar Stadium, had to change their venue at the last moment due to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) barring hosting of matches under floodlights due to environmental issues.

If that was not enough, a wrong backdrop at the pre-match press conference added insult to injury with the club risking a fine from the I-League committee.

On the field though, the team which won the league two years back look strong with three of their foreigners retained and the clutch of Indian players potent enough to worry most teams in the competition.

Haitian forward Sony Norde, Japanese playmaker Yusa Katsumi and Scottish marksman Darryl Duffy are the imports who will don the green and maroon jersey again with Eduardo Ferreira, who played for Indian Super League (ISL) side FC Pune City, the only addition.

Among the Indian spread, All India Football Federation (AIFF) Player of the Year Jeje Lalpekhlua is the star along with the likes of Pronay Halder, Pritam Kotal, Kean Lewis forming the core of the players who were there last season.

With players like Sehnaj Singh, Subhashish Bose and Anas Edathodika in the squad, the Kolkata giants are one of three firm favourites to win the title this season.

East Bengal and reigning champions Bengaluru FC are the other two tipped to clinch the crown.

“I cannot do anything about the venue change. But I don’t think it will be much of a problem. Our players have played on synthetic turf before,” coach Sanjoy Sen said when asked whether it will be difficult for his players to adjust on artificial turf at the new venue.

Churchill, on the other hand, come into the tie having hurriedly assembled a squad after their late entry following the Delhi High Court order which helped them make a comeback after a two-year hiatus.

“We got the squad by January 2 and reached here on Friday,” informed first team coach Alfred Fernandes.

“We got little time to prepare and are without any foreigners. We hope to get our overseas players by the third week of this month,” he said.

Anthony Wolfe, one of their recruits, is still to get a international transfer certificate.

“We are here to bag three points. When we are playing we will take the fight to the opposition, captain Keenan Almeida said.