I-League: East Bengal test for youthful Shillong Lajong
Lajong put in a solid display of attacking football last Sunday, when they triumphed over fellow North-Easterners Aizawl FC 2-1 in their opening fixture.
The same Jawaharlal Nehru stadium will now play host to arguably a more formidable East Bengal.
What makes that win even more credible is that Shillong are fielding no foreigners this year and nine of the starting XI in the last game were under-22 players from their youth setup.
Prominent among them was right winger Naorem Mahesh Singh, who helped himself to a brace of goals to turn match-winner.
His left-footed screamer to give Shillong the lead will remain memorable for a long time.
Shillong coach Allison Kharsentiew promised to continue with their attacking instincts.
Before the game, the coach said: "East Bengal have experienced players and they are an experienced team. Our main objective for tomorrow will be to play attacking football and to score goals."
"I don't depend on any particular player, rather, I believe its always a team game. We have to play our own game and concentrate on the goal scoring part," he added.
East Bengal under Spanish coach Alejandro Menendez Garcia will, however, be a totally different kettle of fish than Aizawl one would like to believe, especially given their thoroughly professional performance against Manipur's Neroca FC, where they ran out 2-0 winners against their hosts.
Mexican striker Enrique Esqueda also got on the scoresheet twice for East Bengal in his first competitive game in India.
If anything, the Kolkata giants would have definitely settled down in the hills much better by now, negating any home advantage that Shillong would have, barring the artificial turf at the Nehru stadium and passionate and vocal fans.
Assistant coach Mario said during the pre-game chat: "Our team is confident after the first win against Neroca FC and we hope that we continue with the momentum even tomorrow. Shillong Lajong is a good team and we respect them as our opponents. We will try to play a good game and try to win three points."
Both sides have no injury worries and starting line-ups should not alter much.
Shillong look to their midfield general captain Samuel Lalmuanpuia for leadership in the field and he was fantastic in that aspect in the opener.
Besides Mahesh, wingback Aibanbha Dohling also had an excellent game against Aizawl and his defensive abilities combined with his match awareness will be much needed in the game against the red and golds.
The team from Kolkata seems to have settled into a solid combination and the availability of Syrian midfield general Mahmoud Al Amna, who could not travel for the first game for personal reasons, will only add strength to the squad.
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