I-League: Acid test for Bengaluru FC

Bangalore, Sep 21 (IANS) After months of talks, media activities and hype, Bengaluru FC, coached by former Manchester United player Ashley Westwood, face the acid test when they take on Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan in their opening Airtel I-League football fixture at the Bangalore Football Stadium here Sunday.

Bengaluru FC, formed only this summer and given a three-year stay in the first division of the league, would be hoping for a winning debut against the Kolkata outfit that finished a poor 10th last season.

For Mohun Bagan, who were nearly booted out last season for skipping the second-half of its local league match with East Bengal following spectator trouble, it was a touch and go as they barely managed to avoid relegation by picking up points at the fag end of the I-league.

Coached by Moroccan Karim Bencherifa who took charge after guiding Salgaocar to championship title in 2010-11, Mohun Bagan have shuffled their line-up after losing three key players Syed Rahim Nabi, Nirmal Chettri and Manish Maithani who opted for the contentious IMG-R league that is set to take off next year.

Mohun Bagan have roped in Nicolau Borges, Anthony Pereira and Rowilson Rodrigues from three-times champions Dempo while Adil Khan moved in from Sporting Club de Goa.

Also joining the Mohun Bagan ranks are Katsumi Yusa and Wahild Sali from ONGC while Kenyan Eric Muranda is set to pair up with star striker Odafa Okolie, the Nigerian import on whom much of the team's fortunes ride.

Mohun Bagan have also injected some youth in the form of Rana Gharami and Bengkok Nameirakpam from its academy in a bid to lend some freshness to the side.

For all the changes and shuffling, it remains to be seen whether the Kolkata outfit would do any better than last year and their opening game is against a brand-new side led by India captain Sunil Chhetri, Bengaluru's most high-profile signing.

As for Bengaluru, a lot rests on Chhetri and former English Premier League defender John Johnson, undoubtedly the two who will be keenly watched.

Being the first season, coach Westwood has a task on hand to get the players jell as a team, something cannot be achieved overnight, but there seems to be sufficient talent in the Bengaluru ranks to put up a good show against Mohun Bagan in their lung-opener.

Bengaluru have signed up promising striker Robin Singh from East Bengal while recruiting Liberian midfielder Johnny Menyongar, formerly of Dempo and Shillong Lajong. The team further strengthened their frontline by signing a one-year contract with Sean Rooney, the former Salgaocar striker from Australia.

Providing some local flavour would be midfielders Niroshan Mani, a 21-year old Tata Football Academy (TFA) graduate with two seasons with Sporting Club de Goa and 19-year old Amoes who has represented Karnataka in junior competitions.

The Bangalore Football Stadium, for decades an eyesore since the construction began in 1967 and still incomplete while being mired in controversies, would be the home for Bengaluru FC whose owners have taken up the onerous task of refurbishing the venue that was originally projected as a 90,000-seater facility, but now down to about 15,000 with one of the stands closed due to "security reasons".

For the locals, Bengaluru FC represents a new hope to revive the glory days of Karnataka football that had produced many a giant, including many stars who donned the India colours with distinction.

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