Newcomers Gokulam Kerala FC will host reigning champions Aizawl FC in their I-League match at the EMS Corporation Stadium in Kozhikode on Sunday.
The two teams are approaching the tie from completely different scenarios but both will look forward to taking away with nothing less than all three points.
While debutants Gokulam Kerala went down to heavyweights East Bengal 0-1 in Kolkata, the Aizawl side got the better of Minerva Punjab FC at home, thanks to goals by Kareem Omoloja Nurain and Andrei Ionescu in the second half.
Gokulam coach Bino George sounded elated on his team’s return to home after the away trip.
“It always feels great to be back at home. Our last home game didn’t go well but a lot has changed since then. We’re now going to face the champions and we’re really pumped up to prove our worth against the champions,” George said.
He said that the injuries to his foreign players were putting the team composition in a real jeopardy.
“Injury to foreigners have been the biggest issue we were facing and we could not get good foreigners as it was outside the window when we got the entry.”
Incidentally, Gokulam striker Kamo Bayi, who was instrumental in Aizawl FC’s title win last season, might give tomorrow’s tie a miss owing to his aggravated injury from the last match.
Moreover, two other foreigners Leo Mbele and Khaled Al Saleh have been released by the Gokulam club management of late.
Aizawl FC head coach Paulo Menezes, who has had a decent start to the season so far, is looking forward to this tie as “important than the last game”.
“This game is important than the last game. We are aiming full points. I and some of the players know how important football is in Kerala and it would be a difficult game. We have a young team with quality players,” Menezes said.
“They have performed very well so far and I am happy with them. The team is fit and high on morale. We expect a tough game,” he said.
Asked whether the hot and humid weather conditions here might impose a big challenge to his players, he said, “There is no problem. I think the players can adjust to the climate. The effect of weather is more psychological.”
“We started I-League after Mizoram Premier League and our couple of players got injured. So we we are not able to start well but I think any team in the league has a chance to win the title. There are no clear favourites as of now,” the Portuguese coach said.