I-League 2018-19 Preview: Who are the favorites, dark horses, giant killers, and the underdogs?

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Nearly a month after the glitzy and glamorous ISL commenced, its older cousin brother- I-League– will begin on October 26. Other than Salam Ranjan Singh, none of the Indian players playing in it made it to Stephen Constantine’s squad for the game against China. However, the teams shouldn’t be underestimated; as at the Super Cup, they gave the ISL teams a run for their money.

The 2018-19 I-league will be an intriguing affair
The 2018-19 I-league will be an intriguing affair

Here is the list of teams and what you should expect from them.

Aizawl FC: After a fairytale 2016-17 season where they lifted the trophy, Aizawl had a dismal 2017-18 season by finishing fifth. To ensure the Mizo club find themselves fighting for the trophy, they roped in NEROCA’s Gift Raikhan who helped the Manipuri outfit finish second last season.

Players to watch out for: Ghanefo Ansumana Kromah, Bektur Talgat Uulu, Govin Singh, Leonce Dodoz Zhikai

Chennai City FC: After a brilliant pre-season where they triumphed over Bengaluru FC 2-1 and holding FC Pune City to a 1-1 draw, newly signed Singaporean coach Akbar Nawaz would love to carry forward that form at the I-League. Although their star player last season Soosairaj has left for greener pastures, the southerners don’t have a dearth of quality in their completely new-look side.

Players to watch out for: Pedro Javier Manzi, Edwin Vanspaul, Sandro Rodriguez, Eslava Suarez

Churchill Brothers SC: The Goan side finished last but one at the 2017-18 season and were relegated as the team below them, Indian Arrows, were immune to it. However, after an appeal to the AIFF, they were reinstated and would like to make the most of the opportunity. The Red Machines lost 1-2 narrowly to FC Pune City and eked out FC Goa 2-1 at the pre-season. To make the most out of their side, they roped in Petre Gigiu who previously managed the Algerian, Oman, and Romanian national side.

Players to watch out for: Wayne Vaz, Israil Gurung, Willis Plaza, Khalid Aucho

East Bengal: Since its inception in 2007, East Bengal has been the favorites to win the title every single season, and this year is no different one. They always came close but fumbled at the last stages. With rumors being rife that East Bengal and Mohun Bagan would join ISL next year, this might be the Red and Golds’ last chance to romance with the trophy.

Players to watch out for: Mahmoud Al-Amnah, Borja Gomez Perez, Lalrindika Ralte, Enrique Esqueda

Gokulam Kerala: Gokulam Kerala held the tag of giant-killers last season as they hunted prominent sides like East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, and eventual winners Minerva Punjab. Bino George’s side would love to maintain the moniker when they take on the Green and Maroons in their opening fixture.

Players to watch out for: Antonio German, Ajay Singh, Fabricio Ortiz, Daniel Addo

Indian Arrows: After a splendid performance at the 2017 U-17 World Cup, the boys embarked their professional footballing career by donning the Arrows’ jersey. They played brilliant football last season, but brief spells of immaturity cost them and they finished at the bottom. However, under new coach Floyd Pinto, they would like to right all the wrong. The I-League teams should be wary of the underdogs as they defeated Argentina U-19 team in the pre-season.

Players to watch out for: Vikram Pratap Singh, Jeakson Singh, Prabhsukhan Gill, Boris Singh

Minerva Punjab: Like Aizawl FC the season before, almost the entire squad of Minerva Punjab has left for better opportunities. However, they have roped in some young and energetic foreign recruits to fill up the void. Will Ranjit Bajaj’s side be the first team to defend their I-League title? Only time will tell.

Players to watch out for: William Opoku, Philip Njoku, Aimable Nsabimana, CS Sabeeth

Mohun Bagan: Like their arch-rivals East Bengal, there hasn’t been a single I-League where the Green and Maroons didn’t start off as the favorites. However, they have achieved the feat once, and with Sankarlal Chakraborty at the helm, they would leave no stone unturned to repeat it this season.

Players to watch out for: Sony Norde, Aser Dipanda, Mehtab Hossain, Kingsley Ogumneme

NEROCA: NEROCA had a fairytale 2017-18 season by finishing second above favorites East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. But with Gift Raikhan not managing the side, it will be a tough task for the new coach Manuel Fraile to repeat the feat.

Players to watch out for: Katsumi Yusa, Subhash Singh, Eduardo Ferreira, Aryn Williams

Real Kashmir FC: Unlike most of the leagues in Europe where the promoted team battles to avoid relegation, the I-League sees them at the other half of the table. David Robertson and his team from Srinagar would try to live up to the expectations after warming up at the Borussia Dortmund academy in the pre-season. Not much is known about them, but the teams should never underestimate the dark horses.

Players to watch out for: Aaron Katebe, Gnohere Krizo, Mason Robertson, Loveday Enyinnaya

Shillong Lajong: The Meghalayan outfit took a bold decision by announcing that they would not field a single foreigner in the starting lineup this season. The move could prove costly for the them as Indian Arrows were the only team to do so last season and they finished at the bottom.

Players to watch out for: Samuel Lalmuanpuia, Hardy Nongbri, Nidhin Lal, Lalrammuana

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