I-League: Indian Arrows face East Bengal test in new versus old clash
The Indian Arrows team with many from India’s FIFA U-17 World Cup team held Mohun Bagan in Kolkata in the last match; they now face East Bengal in Delhi on Tuesday.football Updated: Jan 01, 2018 20:16 IST
The Indian Arrows’ first season in the I-League has been inconsistent to say the least, but it is something to be expected given the side consists entirely of developmental players.
An opening-day victory over Chennai City FC was followed by three defeats in a row, two of them coming against Minerva Punjab and one against newcomers Gokulam Kerala.
However, their last two games have seen the young side regain some form, and more importantly show fans they mean business.
After stunning last season’s runners-up Shillong Lajong FC 3-0, they showed maturity to hold Indian football stalwarts Mohun Bagan 1-1 despite being reduced to 10 men in the second half.
It is perhaps these showings that prompted East Bengal coach Khalid Jamil to say his side won’t underestimate the young side.
“Indian Arrows are playing good football. The Improvement in them is evident. We can’t take them lightly. They are a good unit,” Jamil, who took Aizawl FC to the title last year, told reporters in New Delhi on the eve of the clash.
Arrows coach Luis Norton de Matos was also quick to pay respect to his opponents. “East Bengal are one of the best teams in India. Khalid has won the I-League already. They have some good individual talent too and won’t be easy to stop. I expect a very hard game for us tomorrow,” said the Portuguese.
No Dheeraj, no problem?
Indian Arrows will have to do without goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh, the U-17 team stopper who chose not to extend his contract with the AIFF beyond December 31 and is reportedly lining up trials with some European clubs.
The young shot-stopper was considered the find of the FIFA U-17 World Cup and was given a standing ovation by the New Delhi crowd after India’s narrow group game loss against Colombia.
While Matos spoke positively about reserve goalkeeper Prabhsukhan Singh Gill, Khalid Jamil, when asked about Dheeraj’s absence, said: “The Arrows not having Dheeraj Singh will be an advantage for us.”
Mental edge for youngsters
Perhaps the biggest advantage Arrows have over East Bengal is not being burdened by expectations.
East Bengal are among the biggest clubs in India and dropping points to this young side will be seen as a negative, no matter the circumstances.
However, De Matos has previously pointed out that Arrows only play in the I-League for the exposure and are exempt from relegation. Anything else – including a victory over the Indian football giants – is a bonus.