Kochi: With Sachin Tendulkar set to cheer them from the stands, Kerala Blasters would look to straightaway set the tone when they lock horns with last season's laggards Northeast United FC in the Indian Super League (ISL) here tomorrow.
The Tendulkar co-owned was impressive in the inaugural edition, reaching the final where they were stopped by Atletico de Kolkata, while Northeast United FC, owned by actor John Abraham, managed to win just three games out of 14 to finish at the bottom of the table in the eight-team franchise-based football tournament.
The hosts will be looking to go one better this time around under the tutelage of Peter Taylor and marquee signing Carlos Marchena. Taylor, who played for Tottenham Hotspur and Crystal Palace as a winger is a proven customer as a coach, having managed numerous clubs including Leicester City in the Premier League.
Unlike other ISL teams, Kerala Blasters had their entire pre-season build-up in their home state and have been well acclimatised to the vagaries of the weather. This could be an advantage for them. Rain is forecast for tomorrow.
However, the team will miss its marquee player Spaniard Carlos Marchena, a 2010 World Cup winner as he was forced to return home with an injury suffered during a practice session. In the last edition, Kerala had a tough start with five straight away games of which they could accumulate only four points. The following five matches saw them gain 11 points and a reputation for having one of the best defences marshalled by Cedric Hengbart and Sandesh Jhingan from Chandigarh.
They edged out strong favourites Chennaiyin FC 4-3 on aggregate in the two-legged semi-finals.
The players to look out for will be full back Jhingan, who was named as the emerging player of the first edition, Peter Ramage (England), Bruno Perone (Brazil) and goalkeeper Stephen Bywater, and national players like Cavin Lobo and Peter Carvalho. On the other hand, pride is at stake for Northeast United FC after a disastrous outing last season.
The team will bank a lot on its new manager Cesar Farias, who will hope to repeat some of the success of his distinguished career with the Guwahati-based outfit with a huge fan base.
Under the 42-year-old's guidance, the Venezuelan national team reached the semi-finals of the Copa America in 2011.
The squad seem to have a healthy mix of youth and experience. They have a talented marquee player in former Barcelona winger Simao Sabrosa, besides other foreigners from Ivory Coast, Ghana, Senegal and Zambia.