NEROCA FC will be aiming to keep their hot run intact when they host the Indian Arrows in their third home game of the 2017/18 Hero I-League at the Khuman Lampak Main Stadium in Imphal on Friday (5 January 2018).
A team that hardly looks like a newly promoted side, their standing on the league table says it all. With eleven points from six games, the Manipur-based side are placed third and they have the great opportunity to leapfrog Minerva Punjab FC to trail leaders Kingfisher East Bengal (17 points) by three points, that too with a game in hand.
The defeat to Minerva Punjab FC in their first game now seems a distant past as they are unbeaten in five. Coached by Gift Raikhan, the side also has managed to hold Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan and Kingfisher East Bengal to draws.
The recent signing of Serbian forward Nedo Turkovic to partner Felix Chidi has provided the unit with a much-needed tooth in attack and with the presence of experienced Indians in Gouramangi Singh and Singam Subash Singh, the men in orange look a force to reckon with.
Raikhan, who has surprised many with his astute tactics did not reveal too much on the eve of the match about his thoughts. “We have a plan for tomorrow. We have a different strategy. As a coach, I don’t talk about my strategy before the game. We planned together and all my players have understood my plan. Now, we have to prove it and the plan should be successful on the field,” he said.
Skipper Lalit Thapa added, “It is not an easy game for us, they are a young team. It will be hard for us, we cannot give space to them. If we give space, they will hit us hard.”
As for the All India Football Federation (AIFF)’s development side, the Indian Arrows travel to the north-eastern state after a gritty performance at home against Kingfisher East Bengal two days ago. They play their seventh match in a month’s time and will be looking to reverse their fortunes, which see them placed seventh on the table with as many points.
“I am very excited to be in Manipur for the first time. When I came to coach the Indian U17 side first, I was touched by a lot of the players from Manipur. There is a big passion in this region for football. I now know a little bit more about football in India. There are players from Manipur in all Hero I-League teams. It is a region of football talent. I am glad to coach so many players of Manipur,” said head coach Luis Norton de Matos in the pre-match press conference.
He added, “It is a mix of sensations. The players are excited too. The Arrows boys present in heart of NEROCA FC supporters I am sure. We have never been the favourites in any game. In the Hero I-League, all teams depend on foreigners. We are a bit different. After each game, we have the victory of experience. We try to win the game but we are not obliged to win.”
“NEROCA FC are more physical than for example Minerva Punjab FC, so we have to adapt. NEROCA FC have 2-3 foreigners I know very well and they are important to their team but we are confident in our idea of football. Irrespective of the result, the crowd which come to the stadium, they must be happy with the football and the players satisfied by the collective experience both on and off the field, which is most important”, concluded the boss.
Meanwhile, team captain Amarjit Singh Kiyam will return to the line-up after serving out a one-game suspension.
Apart from that, “There will be 5-6 (Manipur-born) on the field for (Indian Arrows) sure”, said Matos.
With both sides having a heavy influence on players from the state, the Imphal crowd is surely up for a treat when the match kicks-off at 2 PM IST. The match will be televised on Star Sports 2/2 HD and Live streaming will be available on Hotstar and Jio TV.