NorthEast United players after a gymming session

NorthEast United FC, in a social media reel on August 3, announced their squad for the 132nd Durand Cup.

After facing severe criticism for failing to field a senior team in last year’s Durand Cup, the NEUFC management seems to have learnt from the blunder.

The 25-member squad which was announced a day before the season opener, features 11 new signings, including three new foreign recruits.

NorthEast United FC is placed in Group D of the 132nd Durand Cup alongside Shillong Lajong, FC Goa, and Downtown Heroes FC. Coach Juan Pedro Benali’s side will be playing all their group stage matches at home at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati.

NorthEast United’s first match is set to be a blockbuster, as they will face Shillong Lajong on August 4.

Sharing his thought process behind the team selection, Benali said: “I am confident in the group of players we have chosen. Our team has a blend of experienced players and promising young talents who have shown great potential in training.”

The 54-year-old Spaniard also highlighted the importance of taking part in the competition, which is Asia’s oldest football tournament. “The Durand Cup is a prestigious tournament, and we are eager to compete at our best level. We want to play attractive football. The players have been working hard on the training ground, and I believe we are well-prepared for the challenges ahead. We are all excited to represent NorthEast United FC and aim to make our fans proud with our performances on the field,” Benali added.

Last season, NorthEast United fielded a “third division” team at the tournament in the name of “giving exposure” to the youngsters. While the team played in front of a decent audience at home, it lost 0-6 to Odisha FC at the season opener. The number of spectators since then dwindled.

This year, the first match – of the tournament and the season – should be exciting as it involves a rejuvenated Shillong Lajong who are making a comeback to the national level. The team from the Meghalaya capital managed to rope in some talented young club veterans into their 30-man squad, including the likes of Phrangki Buam, Kenstar Kharsong and Kynsailang Khongsit.

Coached by Spaniard Juan Pedro Benali for this season, the Highlanders on the other hand will be keen to test out some new signings they have made along with some youngsters. Redeem Talang for example is back in their fold and they also have brought under their wings a few utility players like Asheer Akhtar and Thoi Singh recently, who the Spanish gaffer would be keen to test out.

It would be important to begin with a win for all teams in general given they are four teams in a group and there is a premium on winning the group. While FC Goa will be formidable in Group D, both Shillong Lajong and NorthEast United will fancy their chances against Kashmir’s Downtown Heroes, thus making the opener assume even more importance for both of them.

Confirmed squad of NorthEast United

Goalkeepers: Khoirom Jackson Singh, Mirshad Koottappunna, Nikhil Deka

Defenders: Dinesh Singh Soraisham, Tondonba Singh, Miguel Zabaco, Asheer Akhtar, Gaurav Bora, Hira Mondal, Buanthanglun Samte

Midfielders: Romain Philippoteaux, Mohamed Irshad, Gani Ahmed Nigam, Jithin MS, Phalguni Singh Konsham, Shighil Nambrath, Pragyan Gogoi, Fredy Chawngthansanga

Forward: Rochharzela (Chhara), Nestor Albiach, Parthib Gogoi, Manvir Singh, Redeem Tlang, Shajan Franklin, Ibson Melo

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