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 November 14, 2002 | 1910 IST

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Churchill, Salgaocar set
to kick-off NFL

Francis Serrao

With a new sponsor in ONGC and a new rule, allowing a team to field only three foreigners in match, the stage is set for the seventh edition of the National Football League.

Two Goa teams kick-off the 132-match tournament, which will be inaugurated by Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, with last year's runners-up Churchill Brothers taking on Goa Professional League champions Salgaocar at the Nehru stadium in Margao, Goa, on Friday.

On current form, Salgaocar, who had won the league in the 1998-99 season, hold a psychological edge over their state-mates, having beaten them in their last match of the professional league. But Churchill's current form, which has seen them do well in the AFC Champions League makes them favourites in the Derby clash.

Far from impressive in the professional league, in which they finished a poor sixth, Churchill have since strengthened and organised their firing line and defence. After lacklustre performances early in the season, Yakubu Yusif and Osumani Husseni are begining to peak and have added a new dimension to the side, as was seen in their Champions League matches against Saigon Port of Vietnam and Thailand's Osotspa FC. With striker Tikken Singh and mid-fielder Kanta Singh, who together were responsible for Manipur winning the Santosh Trophy earlier this month, and big names like Noel Wilson, Rocky Barreto, Ratan Singh, Kanta Singh, Mahesh Gawali, Rajesh Meetei, Denzil Ferrao and Edward Ansah in goal they look formidable.

Salgaocar are well aware that their opponents will be looking for revenge. They too have a well-balanced side but injuries to key players is a worrying factor for coach Savio Madeira. Samson Singh has a sore ankle while their fleet-footed striker Alex Ambrose is down fever and unlikely to take the field. Nevertheless, Sebastiao Endro and Sunday Seah are capable of delivering the goods upfront. With a strong midfield, comprising the likes of Dennis Cabral, Tomba Singh, Climax Lawrence and Bungo Singh they are strong enough to deny Churchill revenge.

But much will depend on the defence which looks a bit suspect. In Robert Fernandes and skipper Covan Lawrence Salgaocar have two of the best stoppers, but the wing-backs look a bit shaky. Churchill will try to exploit this weakness and attack from the flanks. Bello Rasaq and Manitombi Singh, who are likely to man those positions, will have to come good for Salgaocar to snatch full points.

Coach Madeira was confident of his boys doing well not only in tomorrow's match but in the whole league wihich is likely to run up to April 2003. "If we play to our potential and injuries do not catch-up, the title is our for the taking," he said.

Churchill coach Marcus Pacheco too sounded optimistic. Citing the team's current showing in the AFC Champions League he said: "The players now believe in themselves and are capable of matching the best in business."

A good crowd is expected for the match, which kicks-off at 3.45 pm. And though both home teams will be battling it out, the support will be for sentimental favourites Salgaocar.

Complete Coverage: 7th National Football League 2002-03