With the elusive title aspirations firmly in mind, city football giants East Bengal will look to start their campaign on a high when they take on defending champions Aizawl FC in an I-League encounter at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan here on Tuesday.
In the head to head count, the two teams have met four times so far with East Bengal winning twice and Aizawl having the last laugh once. One match ended in a draw.
The red and gold brigade haven’t laid their hands on the crown since it was re-christened the I-League from the erstwhile National Football League in 2007.
On the other hand Aizawl, in only their second season, won the coveted prize shocking everyone and drawing comparisons with English Premier League side Leicester City who also did the improbable of winning the league despite being on the verge of relegation in the previous season.
But this year the road to defending their title would be way more tougher.
While former Aizawl coach Khalid Jamil helped the Mizoram-based side win the league, Brandon Vanlalremdika and influential Syrian midfielder Mahmoud Al-Amnah jumped ship to East Bengal, the likes of Jayesh Rane, Asutosh Mehta, goalkeeper Albino Gomes, Kamo Bayi and Eze Kingsley also moved on.
Under new Portuguese coach Paulo Meneses, Aizawl have striker Alfred Jaryan and veteran Shylo Malsawmtluanga to look upto.
Coming to East Bengal, Jamil’s charges will be brimming with confidence after capturing a record eighth Calcutta Football League title and having been able to keep players such as Arnab Mondal, Mohammed Rafique, Gurwinder Singh and Cavin Lobo from the ISL.
From this year, five foreigners can be fielded in the starting eleven, like the ISL.
East Bengal will be bolstered by the signing of Japanese playmaker Yusa Katsumi who switched allegiance from Mohun Bagan.
The last time East Bengal played at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan was in 2016 against Mohun Bagan.