It’s a packed Sunday for Indian Football fans, the I-League action moves in the evening to Naihati, where Mohammedan Sporting Club will host Aizawl FC.
Mohammedan Sporting have had a fruitful pre-season, when they won the Calcutta Football League Premier Division and also produced some good performances in the Durand Cup, finishing second in Group B, behind Mumbai City (1-3), after defeating the likes of Jamshedpur FC (6-0) and Indian Navy (2-1).
It is a classic battle between a side aspiring to win the title, against a club looking to secure a mid-table finish. However, the tides have turned on the respective teams, as former champions Aizawl are looking for a fourth-placed finish, as admitted by their head coach Erol Akbay, while Mohammedan Sporting, led by Andrey Chernyshov, are carrying the expectations of winning the league.
“It’s normal for our supporters to want us to win all our games. The CFL was a good win, and now they expect us to win the I-League, which is a good expectation to have,” said Chernyshov. “But the I-League is a top tournament with good teams, and it is played in different cities with different cultures and climates.
“It’s easy to say that we want to win, but in reality, it is much more difficult. We will have to fight for every inch. All the teams that play against us are very motivated. What I can promise is that our players will fight to play good football, and to get the desired results. And of course, our aim is to finish at the top,” he said.
Chernyshov came in a little over a month before the start of the I-League season, but feels that his team have prepared well for the season that lies ahead. “We have put together many games for this side in Kolkata. They played the CFL and Durand before I came, and some friendlies as well. We have shown we can get good results. Now we need to do the same in the I-League too,” said Chernyshov.
The Black and White Brigade seem to have a competent side on paper, with quality foreigners like midfielder Mirajlol Kasimov from Uzbekistan, Argentinian forward Alexis Gómez, and Honduras international Eddie Hernández. While Chernyshov hoped that the experienced players would play a key role in guiding the rest of his players, he also admitted that Mohammedan Sporting’s focus is less on their opposition Aizawl FC and more on developing their own game.
Former champions Aizawl FC have roped in Dutch head coach Erol Akbay, who is more intent on the process of playing entertaining football, rather than the results, and is also perhaps looking to spring a few surprises along the way.
“Aiming to be champions is maybe too much as of now, but I think we can pull off some surprising results this season,” said Akbay. “Right now, our primary focus is on developing our own game. We are a team with fast players, so we want to play our game with high speed. I can assure you that people will enjoy our game, and if we can achieve that, we would have done a good job.”
The People’s Club have signed only two foreign players so far this season, and are expected to rope in more in the coming week. Serbian Ivan Marić and Brazilian Gustavo Silva will strengthen their defence.
“We have a mix of youth and experience in the team, and I hope that that will help us jell together well. With the quality that we have, I think it will be a good result for us if we can manage to finish fourth or fifth,” said Akbay.
Aizawl FC have the upper hand over Mohammedan Sporting in terms of historical records, with the side from Mizoram having won twice; the Black and White Brigade have won only one match, while the last game played between these two teams ended in a 2-2 draw.
The match will kick off at the Naihati Stadium in Naihati, at 7 pm IST, and will be broadcast live on Eurosport, and streamed on FanCode and Indian Football YouTube channel.