Mumbai club begin their second division campaign on Saturday,hope to qualify for I-League.
It’s barely half hour into the training session at the Karnataka Sporting Association ground and the Pifa Colaba players are already drenched in sweat. The immediate reaction is to blame it on the unusually humid climate. Observe closely,though,and you realise it’s more to do with the intensity with which the players are training.
Their Nigerian striker Emmanuel Okoye plays a loose ball from the centre of the field. Stand-in coach Nirvan Shah,who’s also the club’s CEO,is quick to shake him up. We’ve only got one week to prepare. We need to focus…cannot afford to relax now, Shah says.
Pifa are one of the three teams from the city who will take part in I-League 2,aiming to secure promotion to the top flight. They’ve fallen short in their two previous attempts and are hoping to get third time lucky. But the odds are stacked against them. Time has been their enemy. Pifa’s preparation for the second division of the I-League couldn’t have been worse and for none of their fault. They have last played a competitive tournament in August,the Nadkarni Cup. Since then,they’ve taken part in a few stray tournaments around the country,but none have tested their true potential.
To add to their woes,the MDFA elite division league was scrapped. Pifa were banking to get some much-needed match practice ahead of the second division championships by taking part in the elite division tournament. But the league never managed to take off and Pifa’s plans were severely hampered. Their chief coach Farukh Ahmad was selected to manage Maharashtra at the recently-concluded Santosh Trophy. Consequently,he could not be present at the camp. Shah was the man in charge in Ahmad’s absence. Our preparation hasn’t been ideal. But these were the things that weren’t in our hands. It’s a shame that the elite division league wasn’t conducted this year, Shah says.
Group of Death
To add to their misery,Pifa find themselves in what is dubbed as the Group of Death in the second division. The competition in the second division is pretty high and as fate would have it,Pifa find themselves in tougher of the three groups. Their pool consists of three contenders Mohammedan Sporting,Royal Wahingdoh and Kerala-based Josco FC,apart from Simla Youngs,Techno Aryans,Green Valley SC,Bhawanipore FC and Aizawl FC. Pifa will open their campaign against Simla on March 9 in Indore.
The humidity in Indore is expected to take a toll on the players,and with the matches scheduled every alternate day,fitness level of every player will be tested.
It’s a very tough group. Me being away from the team for almost a month didn’t help our cause either. However,I got a lot of experience from Santosh Trophy which I can utilise here. I was exposed to handling the team in challenging situations which has helped me learn a lot, Ahmad said.
Our aim is to finish in top two. To achieve that,we will initially play a slightly defensive system and wait for things to happen. Once the players are in the groove,we can change the system and go into attacking mode. It will be extremely important to maintain the shape of the team.
Ahmad said their team is a perfect blend of youth and experience. Pifa will rely heavily on their three foreign players Okoye,his compatriot Vincent Asuquo (defender) and Zimbabwean striker James Phiri. They also boast of some talented Indian players such as Dashyangg Kachru and Varin Mehta among others. The boys are enthusiastic. Many are playing in the second division for the first time and are keen to make a mark, Ahmad said.