I-League outfit Pune FC players Jeje Lalpekhlua, Arata Izumi and Shanmugham Venkatesh are confident of putting up a good show against English Premier League side Blackburn Rovers, when the sides meet at Balewadi Stadium here today.
Experienced India and Pune midfielder Venkatesh, named skipper in place of the injured Subrata Paul, warns Blackburn that they won't have it easy as his team will play knowing they have a reputation to protect. "Blackburn is a big team. It is a very good opportunity for us.
Pune FC's Arata Izumi (left), Jeje Lalpekhlua and Shanmugham
As a senior player, my advice to the team is to play freely and without fear. Also what is more important is that we have to think of our fans. We have a reputation to protect in front of home support. We are not focussing on the result. We are more interested in playing well," said the 32-year-old.
Pune FC's Japanese star Izumi knows all about performing in pressure situations, thanks to his experience in the J League. And he thinks his team are well poised in today's game because they have nothing to lose. "We have prepared well for Blackburn. We have studied their players. We just have to perform to our best now. We have to play without fear, without letting the occasion get to us," said the 29-year-old midfielder.
Focus on Jeje
All eyes will be on young striking sensation Jeje. The Mizoram-born forward has a very impressive goal-scoring record for both club and country. Pune FC will be praying their young prodigy comes to the fore. The 20-year-old has already earned himself a regular starting position in the national senior team, having scored five goals in eight appearances for his country. But today, the 5ft 9 inch striker will be up against a much bigger opponent in the 6ft 4inch tall Christopher Samba.
When asked if he has ever been marked by a man as huge as Samba, and if he would be intimidated by the burly defender, Jeje coolly answered: "No (never been marked by someone that huge). But, I'm not afraid, or intimidated. This match will be a great learning experience, and we will give it our best."