Ludhiana, November 30: Promoted NEROCA FC hope to start their I-League campaign in style against one-year-old Minerva Punjab FC at the Guru Nanak Stadium here on Friday (December 1).
Minerva Punjab, who bid for a direct entry into the I-League last year, held Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan at home in the opening fixture of the league, and will now host NEROCA FC, the first-ever club from Manipur to take part in the premier division of Indian football.
Last practice session ahead of tomorrow clash with @minervapunjabfc pic.twitter.com/XcqCs9Hu3Z— Neroca FC (@NerocaFC) November 30, 2017
Minerva were tactically on point against Bagan. They executed their man-marking strategy well, thereby neutralising the Mohun Bagan attack for most parts of the game. Abhishek Ambekar, captain Sukhdev and Kassim impressed against Bagan, while half-time substitute Lago made life difficult for the Mohun Bagan defence.
Minerva Punjab head coach Wankhem Khogen Singh hoped to carry the form into the game against NEROCA. "We were excellent in the second half against Mohun Bagan. If we keep the same form we can surely collect 3 points tomorrow," he said.
NEROCA, despite playing almost 2,700 km away from their capital Imphal, are no pushovers. Their strength is to be seen, especially with the addition of attacking midfielder Akhlidin Israilov, who hails from Kyrgyzstan and has played for Dynamo Kyiv and Dnipro of Ukraine. Having qualified from the second division of the I-League, the onus is on the Lalit Thapa-led side to prove their mettle in the top flight of Indian Football.
Head coach Gift Raikhan said: "Two years ago, we and Minerva Punjab both tried to win the second divison of the I-League. That year, Minerva were successful. But last year, we managed to win the second division and were unbeaten throughout the season. Both Minerva and NEROCA have young squads, but we also have experience in Gouramangi Singh and Sushil Singh. It will be interesting to watch them battle for three points."
Minerva Punjab vs NEROCA FC
Live from the Guru Nanak Stadium
at 5.30 pm on December 1
On Star Sports 2 and Hotstar
Source: AIFF Media