| SUNDAY SEAH: Doubtful starter
Margao: The seventh National Football League (NFL) kicks off at the Nehru Stadium here Friday with four Goan teams in action.
Salgaocar take on runners-up Churchill Brothers in what promises to be a close affair. The other match on Day I will pit Vasco against Dempo, who were promoted from the second division.
Vice-president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat will declare open the tournament in the presence of Goa governor K.N. Sahani and chief minister Manohar Parikkar.
Salgaocar had six key players on national duty in recent months but despite the limited resources, the local champions put up a fine performance in the professional league winning the title beating Churchill 1-0.
Even Salgaocar’s bench strength has been severely affected. As many as five players are on the injured list. Striker Samson Singh and medio Dharamjit Singh are ruled out for Friday’s game while Sunday Seah (hamstring problem) and Alex Ambrose (fever) are doubtful starters.
Salgaocar have recruited another foreigner — Nigerian defender Nueri — who arrived Wednesday but will not play Friday.
Coach Savio Madeira is disappointed he could not train his full team before the National League because 10 of his players were busy playing for different teams in the Santosh Trophy. “With four of our key players returning with injuries we have been hit hard,” Madeira said.
“Although we have the psychological advantage over Churchill having beaten them twice and drawn once this season, the expectations are very high and the pressure will be on us to perform very well,” he said.
“The NFL is a different ball game and Churchill are not the same team after reinforcements,” Madeira observed. “We saw how strong they are now in their matches against Saigon Port of Vietnam and Osotspa of Thailand and we cannot take things lightly against them.”
Manitombi Singh, who will make his Salgaocar debut Friday, will add muscle to the defence which also has Covan Lawrence, Robert Fernandes and Bello Razaq.
Playmaker Bungo Singh will lead the attack along with Tomba Singh, Prashant Jaggi and Dennis Cabral.
Churchill Brothers, who had a poor run in the domestic league last season, look a stronger unit following the inclusion of Kasif Jamal, Mahesh Gawli and Yusif Yakubu.
The midfield is Churchill’s weakest link, and coach Marcus Pacheco will have to choose from one of two new Manipuri recruits — Kanta Singh and Tiken Singh — to fill in a missing slot.
Whatever the final outcome, the Goan soccer-lovers can expect a humdinger. Not least because both know each others’ strengths and weaknesses, and are always out to go one better than the other.
Defending champions Mohun Bagan, smarting from the six-goal humiliation in Korea’s Taejon, launch their campaign in Goa on Tuesday, against Vasco.
East Bengal, expected to be a strong title-contender, open against Tollygunge Agragami Sunday when Mahindra United host HAL.
Returning to the elite division along with Dempo are Indian Bank (Chennai) — at FC Kochin and Punjab Police’s expense.