BENGALURU: I-League, the premier football tournament in India, may soon lose its status, as the proposed merger with the Indian Super League is knocking at the doors. In what could be the last season of the event, reigning champions Bengaluru FC will begin their title defence against Shillong Lajong FC here at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium.
After a successful 2015-16, where BFC won the league and made history by becoming first Indian club to reach the AFC Cup final, all eyes will be on the team. Midfield became a concern for coach Albert Roca following Alvaro Rubio’s departure, but he left no stone unturned to strengthen that position. Roca brought in Harmanjot Khabra, Lenny Rodrigues and Mandar Rao Desai to fill the void.
While Australian Cameron Watson is expected to lead the supply line alongside Eugnenson Lyngdoh, the third piece could very well be the former East Bengal captain Khabra, who time and again proved his worth at the heart of the Red & Gold brigade’s midfield. Rodrigues, another experienced candidate, played a bit part role for Mohun Bagan last season. But considering Rodrigues’ association with another Spanish coach, Antonio Lopez Habas, at Pune City FC in the ISL, he could fit in well with Roca’s philosophy of possession-based football. However, injuries remain a concern, especially in defence. Rino Anto and Salam Ranjan Singh are among the players out for at least 3-4 weeks. Roca will have to look at alternatives among young recruits.
The other problem for Roca will be the front three. While skipper Sunil Chhetri is expected to start alongside CK Vineeth, the other slot remains up for grabs. Youngsters such as Udanta Singh, Seiminlen Doungel and Daniel Lalhlimpuia will compete to take that place, if Roca chooses to deploy the usual 4-3-3 formation.
Lajong, on the other hand, have not lived up to expectations over the last three seasons. Last term, despite putting up a few good displays, they failed to convert chances. This season, coach Thangboi Singto has overhauled the squad. After Uilliams Souza’s departure, Singto brought in Cameroonian forward Aser Dipanda, while Brazilian Fabio Pena has been retained to spearhead the attack.
“Last year, we struggled to score goals, but this time we have strengthened our attack. I hope players like Dipanda can make a difference,” said Singto.