FC Pune City will have to do without the presence of their talismanic coach Antonio Habas in the dug-out for the Indian Super League Maharashtra derby against Mumbai City FC on Monday.
Habas was sent off by the match referee last season during the second-leg of the semi-final against Chennaiyin FC. He was later banned for four games by the Disciplinary Committee of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) for aggressive behaviour.
Since ATK lost that match, it was the end of their campaign last year. However, Habas carried the Disciplinary Committee suspension for this season and will be missing from FC Pune City dug-out for the team’s first four matches.
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The absence of the Spanish coach could unnerve Pune City at the start but with assistant coach Miguel holding charge and experienced players on the field, the hosts should be able to measure up to their opening match challenge.
Also missing will be former Barcelona and Chelsea FC midfielder Eidur Gudjohnsen who injured himself and is now ruled out of the league. It will be too early for his replacement, Mohamed Sissoko, the former Liverpool and Juventus midfielder, to make his debut on Monday.
Pune, though, will not have to worry much. Habas has put together a team of experienced campaigners, loaded with players who have proved themselves in India. Right on top of that list is goalkeeper Edel Bete, who has won two successive titles with two different teams, while players like Jonathan Lucca (FC Goa) and Bruno Arias (Delhi Dynamos and NorthEast United FC) will also have a significant role to play.
Among the domestic players, Habas has handpicked defender Augustine Fernandes and striker Izumi Arata to continue with him after their impressive showing with Atletico de Kolkata last year, and then there are experienced campaigners like Francis Fernandes, Narayan Das and Sanju Pradhan.
At least on paper, Mumbai City FC can match any of their rivals. For two successive seasons, Mumbai City have put together strong squads but are yet to deliver, finishing seventh and sixth in the first two seasons.
With Costa Rican coach Alexandre Guimaraes arriving here with a reputation of having guided Costa Rica to two World Cups, they need not worry about strategies but the absence of four Bengaluru FC players, including captain Sunil Chhetri, could leave Guimaraes with little options.
Most eyes however will be on Mumbai marquee Diego Forlan. The Uruguayan who finished as the joint top-scorer at the World Cup in 2010 is among the biggest name to grace the HISL this season and will have to shoulder a majority of Mumbai’s striking burden upfront. He can be joined by Jackichand Singh who incidentally was a big buy for Pune at the auctions last season.