Reigning champions Aizawl FC will aim to return to winning ways when they host fellow north-eastern outfit Neroca FC in an I-League match at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium here on Saturday.
I-League debutants Neroca has coped well in their maiden season as they have lost only one match in their nine matches and going into the north-east derby they will be brimming with confidence as they are coming from an outright win against Indian Arrows.
The Manipur based club are placed third in the league table with 18 points from nine matches. They are just one point behind second-placed East Bengal with a game in hand and four points adrift of league leaders Minerva Punjab FC.
A win on Saturday will see them go second on the points table. Aizawl are currently fifth in the league table with 14 points from eight matches.
But Neroca coach Gift Raikhan is well aware of the threat posed by the hosts.
“First of all it’s not a derby for me but more of a homecoming for me as I have nurtured many Mizo boys earlier in my career and did my B-License here in Aizawl.
“Every match is difficult and I cannot predict the result. All I can guarantee is we will give our absolute best. Aizawl FC is a very good team and it will be a tough match,” Raikhan said on the eve of the match.
“It’s been a hectic schedule for us and we cannot properly train in the away matches due to lack of facilities. Some fans are coming from Imphal and I hope it will be an exciting match,” he added.
Neroca midfielder David Biakzara was excited to face a Mizoram club in the country’s top-tier league.
“Aizawl will be tough opponents and it won’t be an easy match. Being a Mizo boy I am very excited to face Aizawl FC and my friends and family will be here to support me,” the Mizo midfielder said.
Aizawl FC can’t afford to lose any more points at home as away fixtures are coming thick and fast.
The Mizoram-based side won’t be getting the services of Afghan defender Masih Saighani but head coach Paulo Menezes said that won’t prevent him from eyeing all three points on Saturday.
“We always fight for three points in every match and we will do the same tomorrow. We respect the opponents and we will need to play tough. The most important thing is to win three points,” the Portuguese coach said.
Nigerian defender Kareem Omolaja Nurain has started every I-League match this season for Aizawl and his role will be crucial in the defending champion’s quest to halt Neroca’s unbeaten run in the absence of Saighani.
Kareem, who played for Minerva Punjab FC last season, stated that the fans are a crucial factor in the way the team plays their football.
“I am very happy to play for Aizawl FC. We are happy to see the fans supporting us and it is easier to perform well with the backing of the fans. Football is a team sport and the fans make it easier to play,” he said.