I-league starts Friday with all eyes on Dempo

September 25th, 2008 - 9:21 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 25 (IANS) The national team is in the Asia Cup final and the champion club Dempo has created history by becoming the first Indian club to enter the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup semi-finals. Indian football seldom had it so good. The two significant developments have provided the fillip the I-League needed to kick off its second edition Friday. This time Dempo are on a high. The two-time league champions are also in fray to make the 2009 AFC Champions League.

The Goan club will play their first game against JCT at home Sunday and coach Armando Colaco is not focussed at the national league right now, his priority is the AFC Cup.

“We are not looking at the I-League. Right now our main priority is the AFC Cup. We are in the semis and after the AFC Cup gets over we will concentrate on the I-League. But as defending champions we are confident of retaining the title, and we can do it if we continue to play the way we are doing,” Colaco told IANS.

The secret of Dempo’s success story is their persistence with the same squad for three years. The likes of Mahesh Gawli, Clifford Miranda, Climax Lawrence have been crucial for the team’s great run. The trio have done exceptionally well for the national team as well.

“Playing at home will be an advantage for us. We are on a winning spree and hopefully we will start the League on a winning note,” Colaco added.

The coach attributes the team’s success to the foreigners as well. Nigerian striker Ranty Martins and Brazilian play-maker Beto stood out last year and the addition of Congolese forward Mboyo Iyomi will make the Goan team a potent team.

“I am happy with the way my foreign players have played. They have been dedicated and there is no pressure on them and that is also a reason why they have been performing well,” he said.

In contrast, all is not well for last year’s runners-up Churchill Brothers, who open the tournament against Durand Cup champions Mahindra United also at home in Panaji, Saturday.

The sacking of Nigerian coach Emeka Ezeugo, who strained his relationship with the players, has put the team in a spot of bother. Newly appointed coach Zoran Djordjevic of Serbia is yet to settle down and he faces the tough challenge at hand.

But team manager Denzil Ferrao said that the team, which lost to Mahindra in the final of the Durand Cup, is ready for revenge.

“We are prepared for the test. They are a good team and came back from behind to beat us in the Durand Cup final. This time we won’t let it happen again,” he said.

Mahindra coach Derek Pereira also knows that it won’t be cakewalk for his boys and the loss of their new Senegalese defender Lamai Thamba, who fractured his leg Tuesday, has added to his worries.

“It is unfortunate that Thamba will be out for a month. But we are not looking for a replacement right now. We will wait and see,” said Pereira.

Pereira is hopeful that the team management will get its act right.

“We are obviously looking at the AFC Cup and the AFC Champions League. So we will make sure that we fulfil all the rules set by the AFC,” he said.

With 12 teams in fray in the second edition, the competition will be tougher. Last year the league had 10 teams and it will be gradually expanded to a 16-team tournament in the coming two years.

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