The Imphal derby between Neroca FC (NFC) and TRAU FC (TFC) and the highly anticipated Durand Cup debut of Mumbai City FC (MCFC) will highlight Day 3 of the Durand Cup football tournament which is currently ongoing in the three cities of Kolkata, Guwahati and Imphal. This is also the first time that a Durand Cup game will be played in the state of Manipur which is considered to be a powerhouse of Indian football.
Under the tutelage of Des Buckingham, the “Big Boys” of Mumbai City FC are up against an Indian Navy football team in a Group B game at the VYBK. In an otherwise David versus Goliath contest, the Indian Navy side looks in a good position with a blend of talented and experienced players.
“We are playing against one of the best teams in Asia and one of the Durand cup favorites. Many big names in their squad.” The team’s confidence and quality came to the fore when he added, “We have analysed their last year ISL & AFC matches. According to that we have some plan. Looking for three points nothing less than that,” said Navy men’s coach VS Abhilash.
Abhilash’s reference to big names was not limited to Indians like Bipin Singh, Rahul Bheke, Rowlin Borges, Vikram Pratap Singh, Mandar Rao Desai and Lallianzuala Changte. It also included some of the foreign Big Guns like Soctsman Gary Stewart, Senegalese Mourtada Fall, Moroccan Ahmed Jahouh along with newcomers like Jorge Pereyra-Diaz and Rostyn John Griffiths from the A-league.
On the contrary, the sailors will be relying on the leadership of Dalraj Singh from deep defence, the sharpness of their Kerala centre-forward Sreyas VG upfront, the wing-play of Pintu Mahata and P.M. Britto. All these players have been performing exceptionally well in the top Indian leagues for quite some time now.
In his pre-match chat, Buckingham spoke about the importance of having a good start and said, “We’ve just had three weeks of a preparatory camp in Dubai before we’ve come here because we wanted to prepare as well as we can firstly for this tournament, and then secondly, for the ISL. But, I won’t disrespect this tournament and say we’re using it as a preparation for ISL because it is the oldest competition in Asia and it’s our first time competing. So of course, we want to try and do as well as we can. We must make sure that we get off to a good start and that’s making sure we only look at the first game within the group.”
“For me as a coach, for us as a playing group and as a club, we want to continue where we left off in the AFC Champions League last season, which is continuing to build our brand of football, continuing to give players opportunities to showcase what they can do, whether it’s on the Asian stage or here at the Durand Cup or whether it’s in preparation for the ISL. So for me, of course, it’s going to be our first competitive game against the Indian Navy, but it’s very much important that we try and pick up where we left off at the back end of last season,” he added.
The Imphal Derby
As is the practice, the Khuman Lampak will be set alight by the evening game between two of the biggest clubs of Manipur, Tiddim Road Athletic Union (TRAU) FC and Neroca FC. In their previous I-League season, both teams finished mid and bottom table. TRAU finished ninth while NEROCA finished seventh. However, their fans have always found themselves on the edge of their seats in a derby game.
On paper, Neroca might appear stronger with four foreigners bolstering their line-up from defence to attack while TRAU only has the backing of Tajik Komron Tursunov and his sublime skills. the derby experience is brought to Neroca by Manas Pratim Gohain and Bishorjit Singh while Thokchom James Singh and Tondomba Singh do the same for TRAU.