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Churchill take on Bagan today

Margao: After an unimpressive display in the opening match, defending champions Mohun Bagan will have to play some high quality soccer against a confident Churchill Brothers when they clash in the National Football League here tomorrow.

Both teams started their league engagement with draws. While last year’s runners-up Churchill drew with Salgaocar 2-2, Bagan were held 1-1 by Vasco.

The teams met here last year in the title clash which Bagan won 1-0 to lift the title for third time.

Churchill will field the same XI that played against Salgaocar, while Bagan are likely to make few changes Friday.

India captain Bhaichung Bhutia, who came in late in the second half in Bagan’s last match, is going to start along with Sheikh Sanjib upfront.

George Ekeh, who played as a withdrawn medio could be moved up as withdrawn forward to give the attack more teeth. Palash Karmakar who has been taken on loan from Bharati Sangha, will not be available because of “technical problems”.

With both the teams well balanced, they would heavily depend on individual brilliance of their respective strikers Yusuf Yakubu and Bhutia to power them to victory.

Yakubu, the highest scorer with 18 goals in last year’s NFL, is in good form and has started well with a goal against Salgaocar. Bhutia, however, is still not fully fit. Neither is Bagan’s Brazilian star Jose Ramirez Barreto. That has forced coach Subrata Bhattacharys to keep his options open.

“I will see them in the practice and will field them only if they are fully fit. I do not want to take any unnecessary risk because we have this important AFC Champions League home match versus Taejon of South Korea,” he said. “Churchill are a good team who have settled down.

“They have players like Noel Wilson, Kasif Jamal, Yakubu, Osumanu and Mahesh Gawli who are capable of turning the tide in their favour, and we are not going to take things lightly.”

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