In a perfect league with promotion and relegation, East Bengal would not have fitted into the scheme of things. But ISL is different so despite finishing last in the 11- team league in the previous season, East Bengal are still hanging in there.
The ninth edition of the top flight league begins in Kochi on Friday with Stephen Constantine’s men taking on Kerala Blasters. With a new investor in Emami backing the Calcutta club — their third in five years after Quess and Shree Cement — and a former India national team coach at the helm, East Bengal will hope to do better this time.
This year, the ISL will have a new format where the top two automatically qualify for the semi-finals, and the teams placed between third and sixth play a single-leg eliminator round to decide the other two last-four teams. East Bengal, who were one of the last to build their team, will target a top-six finish and then take it forward from there.
“We have worked very hard in the short time that we have been together. We are not the finished article but haven’t come to lose the game and I haven’t come to East Bengal to finish last. So, I will do everything I can to make it work,” Constantine said on Thursday.
East Bengal have announced goalkeeper Kamaljit Singh, defender Ivan Gonzalez, midfielders Souvik Chakrabarti and Sumeet Passi, and forward Cleiton Silva as the five captains for the season.
Constantine said Blasters have enough ammunition to trouble East Bengal but his boys will not yield an inch without a fight.
“Blasters have a good side. (Coach) Ivan (Vukomanovic) is in his second year, so the players are familiar with each other. With the number of fans that you have here (in Kochi), it’s going to be a difficult game. All of the games are going to be difficult for us. We will take one game at a time and we will just try to win every game,” he promised.
Blasters, the three-time finalists, will hope that their new recruits — Apostolos Giannou, Dimitrios Diamantakos and Victor Mongil — are up to the task and make up for the loss of their key attackers Alvaro Vasquez and Jorge Pereyra Diaz.
⚫ Kick-off: 7.30pm (Live on Star Sports)