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Buoyant FC Goa ready for Chennaiyin challenge

The Goan team managed by Brazil legend Zico is set for a tough first duel against the dangerous visitors, who have former Italian star Marco Materazzi as their
player-manager. Home advantage will count for nothing as both the teams look to secure full three points to get a head start in the 11-week tournament
FC Goa host Chennaiyin FC in their opening fixture of the Indian Super League at Nehru Stadium, Fatorda on Wednesday. The exciting matchup is between the two teams who are considered among strong contenders for the title in the inaugural edition of the eight-team league.
FC Goa, the state’s franchise managed by Brazil legend Zico, is set for a tough first duel against the dangerous visitors, who have former Italian star Marco Materazzi as their player-manager. Home advantage will count for nothing as both the teams look to secure full three points to get a head start in the 11-week tournament. Materazzi’s men reached here four days ahead of the match day and have quickly acclimatised to the Goan conditions. On the other hand, the FC Goa squad has settled in nicely under Zico and marquee player Robert Pires has nicely assumed the role as the leader of the pack for the hosts.
FC Goa have wisely chosen to draft players from five-time national champions Dempo SC, who give the franchise a proven bunch of young performers considered among the best in India. Also, FC Goa have appointed Dempo coach, Australian Arthur Papas as their assistant coach. Papas will bring much value to the team as a tactician who has gained great knowledge about the workings of Indian football while working with the Indian junior team and now at Dempo.
With players like Narayan Das, Prabir Das, Holicharan Narzary and Alwyn George forming the core, FC Goa start of as a settled unit. Possessional, attacking play is what Zico might opt for to garner quick and favourable results in a league as short as two and a half months.
Czech goalkeeper Jan Seda is seen making his presence felt in between the sticks while Debabrata Roy and Clifford Miranda are expected to be employed on the wings in overlapping roles, and assisting them on the flanks will be Narzary and Gabriel Fernandes who can often sprint effectively. Pires has been spotted in the middle of the park for the Goans with Portuguese striker Miguel Herlein employed up front. The presence of Pires will be a handy necessity given his experience in the Premier League, whilst Gregory Arnolin can help tide over most defensive problems of the team. The addition of seasoned Nigerian striker Ranti Martins could also provide a big boost for them. Versatile Haroon Amiri and Australian striker Tolgay Ozbey were also pulled into the squad and their presence will certainly add value to the Goan roster.
For Chennaiyin FC on the other hand, goalkeeper Gennaro Bracigilano, who was an active part of AS Nancy’s Ligue 2 winning side in 2005 and also won the Coupe de la Ligue in 2006, is expected to start ahead of Mohun Bagan skipper Shilton Paul and East Bengal veteran Abhijit Mondal. The Chennaiyin defence is star-studded and looks one of the strongest in the league. Other than Materazzi, they have secured the services of former Manchester United and Arsenal defender Mikael Silvestre, who has played as a left-back and a centre-back before.
Bernard Mendy, who has more than 250 appearances combined for PSG, Bolton Wanderers and Hull City having also represented France in four international matches, is another important member of the team. The 33-year-old’s ability to contribute in both the attack and defense on the right flank will provide Materazzi with more options. Jairo Suarez, a former Colombia international is also part of the rosters while among the Indians, the likes of Gouramangi Moirangthem and Dhanchandra Singh will be strong contenders to book a place in the starting eleven.
The Chennaiyin midfield is versatile with the likes of former Manchester United midfielder Bojan Djordjic expected to start on the left while La Masia graduate Cristian Hidalgo has pace to burn on the flank. Swedish midfielder Pierre Tillman will pull the strings from the middle of the park and also ensure that the opposition cannot hit them on the break. Harmanjot Singh Khabra can play in multiple positions and could be part of the line-up alongside Tillman. As for strikers, Chennaiyin have Mohun Bagan duo of Balwant Singh and Jeje Lalpekhlua upfront. Balwant was one of the most in-form strikers in the I-League and can also play on the wings if needed. He is known not only to score goals but sets up his team-mates as well. On the other hand, Jeje has recovered from an injury and hasn’t seen regular action last year at Dempo SC.
by Madhav R Pednekar

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