Volcanoes have erupted again in the Highlands! In the rollercoaster ride in the league, the Highlanders experienced the lowest of lows and the highest of highs. From a time when being ‘proud’ of the team’s performance seemed like an exaggeration, Khalid Jamil and his men have together pulled what was a challenging task to qualify for the play-offs. Now, just being ‘proud’ of the team is certainly an understatement. The Highlanders, finishing third, will lock horns with ATK Mohun Bagan, who finished second, at the GMC Stadium from 1930 hours in the first leg of the second semi-final. North-East United are in the best run of form in the ISL and in their history, and this Highlander Express will stop only with the ISL Trophy!
The Highlanders will be heading into the clash with a mission to extend their fairy-tale unbeaten run of 10 games. The goals are coming from a plethora of players, both foreign and Indian, and the team under Khalid have scored 18 goals. The Highlanders, however, find themselves at the receiving end of an unwanted statistics of most goals (25) conceded among those making it to the semis. The team certainly has dents, which needs to be fixed to leave no room for any error now.
NEUFC do not have a star player, they are a team of stars! Subhasish Roy Chowdhury has been dependable in goal and will start the fixture. It will be interesting to see which foreigner Khalid decides to sacrifice as putting an extra defender leaves Gallego out of the starting XI. The centre-back pairing of Lambot and Mashoor along with Ashutosh and Gurjinder are expected to form the back-line. Camara -the Highlander with most touches, passes and interceptions and the prodigal Apuia, after his stunner in the last match will start in the mid-field. The creative responsibility with be on the shoulder of Gallego. Suhair, Brown and Machado are expected to complete to attacking trident.
“We are going to play against a good ATK Mohun Bagan team. They are a good side that’s strong defensively and in attack. We have to be very careful because the first leg is very important… so we must be careful and think positively. We cannot take them lightly at all,” Khalid Jamil said in the pre-match conference, while adding his team needs to “be patient, dictate the game and be very careful.”
ATK MOHUN BAGAN
The Mariners are heading into the semi-final after losing the final game of the league and missing out on the AFC spot. Antonio Lopez Habas has drilled a formidable defence and have conceded the fewest goals in the season. The Fijian Roy Krishna is their star-man scoring 14 and assisting 4. However, the team due to its style of play finds it difficult during matches when they concede first.
“NorthEast United FC have had a very good season in the Hero ISL. They are a very difficult team [to play against] because they have good players in the defence as well as the middle of the park and in attack. I hope that my players also have a good performance, and we can beat them if we give our 100%. They are a balanced team and [interim head coach] Khalid Jamil is doing a good job,” the Spaniard said.
Khalid Jamil and his team will have to find a way to pass the Bagan test. When the two sides met in January, the Highlanders were victorious by 2 goals to 1. But it is now an open slate to draw, create and plan. In the biggest game of the season so far, we expect a braveheart performance once again from the redmen.
Up The Highlanders
We Walk Through This Together