East Bengal banking on Yakubu in I-League lung-opener

September 25th, 2008 - 8:53 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Sep 25 (IANS) Missing several key players, three time winners East Bengal would rely on the firepower of the ace Ghanian striker Yousuf Yakubu as they take on first timers Chirag United on the inaugural day of the ONGC I-league at Barasat here Friday.The inclusion of Yakubu, twice top scorer in the league, has added more teeth to the East Bengal attack which also has the likes of Brazilian Edmilson Marques and the in-form Sunil Chettri.

On the flip side, Alvito de Cunha is out with a calf muscle problem, Dhramjit Singh’s sore knee has pushed him to the sidelines, medio Jayanta Sen’s ankle injury is yet to heal, while stopper M Suresh has to stay away with his hamstring still troubling him.

Having finished a disappointing third in the Kolkata premier league, East Bengal would be keen to make a fresh start in the I-league where they took the sixth place last year, and new coach Stanley Rozario feels his boys is in much better shape now.

“They are mentally motivated. Some of my players are injured. But we are capable of delivering with whatever resources we have,” said Rozario, one of the few AFC A licence coaches in the country.

The red and yellow brigade have a star-studded side starting from under the bar, where the reliability of Subrata Pal is beyond question. Veteran Sulay Musah is the defence general, with Renedy Singh a key piece in the midfield.

“We are looking for a winning start. Though we may not go flat out, as it is our first match. And I don’t think my opponents are weak. As there can be no weak or strong sides in the grueling I-league,” Rozario said on the eve of the match against the local competitors.

Chirag coach Subrata Bhattacharya admitted his team lagged behind in star value.

“But I have some veterans who can come up with surprises on their day,” said Bhattacharya.

Players like Sasthi Duley, Basudeb Mondal and Dulal Biswas may be past their prime, but their vast experience could stand Chirag in good stead during vital moments of the game.

The two sides shared honours in the Kolkata league with East Bengal winning 1-0 in the first leg, and Chirag emerging triumphant by the same margin in the return meeting.

There are two other teams from the city in the league, Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting, with the former having won the title on three occasions.

Fresh from their conquest of the recent Kolkata league, Bagan - a fine combination of senior pros and youngsters - would be keen to retain the momentum in the I-League. Comprising a host of cadets from the Tata Football Academy alongside seasoned players like Bhaichung Bhutia, Jose Barreto, Dipak Mondal and Sangram Mukherjee, the green and maroon brigade could be one of the teams to watch out for.

Sporting, who suffered the ignominy of a 0-9 thrashing in their last appearance in the I-league, have a balanced side and displayed very good form to finish second in the Kolkata league.

The side’s main strength lies upfront, where Theodore Sunday and Mike Okoro drummed up a lethal combination in the city league.

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