Upbeat Dempo begin title defence against Churchill Bros

MARGAO: Defending champions Dempo Sports Club will start the defence of their I-League title with a tricky clash against arch-rivals Churchill Brothers Sports Club at the Nehru Stadium in Fatorda on Saturday at 5.30pm.

Dempo made it to the final of the Federation Cup before eventually losing to East Bengal in extra time, but, observers say, Churchill Brothers was the most impressive team in the competition. Technical director Subhash Bhowmick admits just as much and is now ready to make amends in the I-League, India’s premier football competition.

"We could have been Federation Cup champions. Everyone said we played the most beautiful and attractive football. That we lost to East Bengal (in the semis) was unfortunate but we have everything to play for in the I-League," said Churchill Brothers technical director Subhash Bhowmick.

Bhowmick has majestically rebuilt Churchill Brothers following the departure of several big names. It is, however, the addition of Lebanese duo of Akram Moghrabi and Bilal Najjarin that could give the former champions an edge.

"I have four quality foreign players but only three can play. The choice will be tough between Akram and Henri (Antchouet) but it’s a healthy fight. It will do good for the team," said Bhowmick.

Dempo Sports Club coach Armando Colaco is typically cool and calm ahead of the big opener. "The opening match result will mean nothing. There is a long way to go and, historically, Dempo have been late starters. I have no worries about anything," said Colaco.

Dempo will use a new striking pair of former Arsenal striker Rohan Ricketts and Ryuji Sueoka with Nigerian striker Koko Sakibo and Joaquim Abranches—both of whom started in the Federation Cup final—pencilled for a role in the second session.

Midfielder Godwin Franco is the only casualty with injury. "I want my team to play their natural game. If we win, it’s good but should we lose, it will not change anything. I believe in this team and the players know what they are capable of," said the former India coach.