NorthEast United FC roped in Carlos Javier Lopez to replace the injured Zambian midfielder Kondwani Mtonga. “Kondwani had suffered an ACL strain and meniscal injury which has ruled him out of the competition this year, ” said a release from the franchise.
Lopez is an Argentine defender who has played for clubs like Tiro Federal (Argentina, 2010-2011) and Deportivo Italia (Venezuela, 2009-2010). He is an experienced defender with around 15 years of experience mainly in the south american leagues. He started his career for the Mexican outfits Pachuca (2001-2002) and Merida (2003-2004). His last club was Deportivo Anzoátegui (Venezuela).
NorthEast United FC embarked on their pre-season tour of South Africa for preparation of the 2nd edition of ISL on 31st August, 2015. The team was hosted by the South African Indoor Football Association (SAIFA), an affiliate of the South African Football Association (SAFA).
The entire squad assembled at Durban on the 1st September 2015 and availed world-class training facilities next to the Moses Mabhida stadium. NEUFC Head-Coach, César Farías expressed the delight when asked about his thoughts on the pre-season tour, “I am very excited to have the pre-season camp in a country that has, firstly and fore mostly, hosted a World Cup and possesses great facilities and wonderful people. I was there during the FIFA World Cup 2010 and I am familiar with the passion and love that South Africa has for this beautiful game. We will make the best of this trip with the team. The friendlies played will be against quality opposition teams, which will aid our preparation.”
The pre-season included 3 matches to be played with Martizburg United FC, AmaZulu FC and Ethekwini Select XI as the opponents.
Match 1: Martizburg United FC vs NorthEast United FC
NorthEast United FC took on Maritzburg United FC at the Hari Gwala Stadium in Pietermaritzburg. The team news is as follow:
NEUFC Starting XI: TP Rehenesh, Bruno Arias, Cédric Hengbart, Reagan Singh, Robin Gurung, Silas, Siam Hanghal, Simão Sabrosa(C), Seityasen Singh, Nicolás Vélez, Francis Dadzie.
NEUFC started the game well, maintaining a lot of possession and produced a few shots on the target. However, Maritzburg United slowly eased into the game and the first danger sign came when the ball fell in a promising position for their striker who shot wide of the target. Soon Dadzie cut across the goal and hit a powerful shot that sailed over the bar. Velez, the Argentine got into promising positions and twice he was flagged offside, while he looked deviously onside. Near the end of the first half, Velez cut in from the right side and wriggled into the box, only to be clipped by the central defender and upended with the referee waving away his protests of penalty. The first half ended with the score at nil-nil.
The second half started with NEUFC dictating the tempo with a few rough tackles from the opposition. Rehenesh proved, why he was one of the best Goalkeepers in the ISL last season. Rehenesh guessed the right way and pulled off a fabulous save to deny the striker what looked to be a certain goal. Then the game’s first goal came. A clearance in our half rebounded off a couple of players and fell to a Maritzburg player who slammed the ball past Rehenesh. In search for an equalizer, NEUFC were punished twice on the counter attack. The second goal for Maritzburg came from a pacy delivery from the flanks and the ball found an unmarked Maritzburg man who placed the header into the right corner of the net. The third goal came from a break away by the opposition which was brilliantly stroked into the net by Martizburg. That took the steam out of NEUFC and the match ended with the Martizburg winning 3-0.
Final Score: Martizburg United FC 3 NorthEast United FC 0
Match 2: AmaZulu FC vs NorthEast United FC
NorthEast United FC took on AmaZulu FC at the pristine Princess Magogo stadium. The team news is as follow:
NorthEast United FC starting XI – TP Rehenesh, Miguel Garcia, Cédric Hengbart, Reagan Singh, Robin Gurung, Silas, Bruno Arias, Siam Hanghal, Simão Sabrosa (C), Boubacar Sanogo, Sanju Pradhan
NEUFC dominated the match from start and the hunger and eagerness was visible as NEUFC players controlled the game in the opposition half. Sanju Pradhan pace caused havoc in the AmaZulu defence, with him though on goal with a delightfully weighted pass from Simão. His delightful chip was brilliantly saved by the keeper. Boubacar Sanogo and Simao had glorious opportunity to the open the deadlock in the first half but somehow were saved by the goalkeeper and defenders respectively. However, in the 25”, Simao opened the scoring by blasting the ball in the far corner of the net. Sanju Pradhan got the assist for Simao goal as he blazed into the opposition penalty box and spotted Simão arriving at the edge of the box and cut the ball back. The teams went into the half-time break with the score at 0-1.
The second-half started in analogous fashion to the first-half with Kamara and Francis replacing Simão and Sanju Pradhan. Within six minutes into the second half, Velez calmly side-footed the ball into the net to give NEUFC an irrefutable 0-2 lead on the night. Bruno Arias got the assist for the second goal. On the 59” minute, Siam Hanghal closed down the opposition goal-keeper with alarming pace and stripped him of the ball. He round the goalkeeper and finished brilliantly from an acute angle.
A controversial incident in the dying minutes of the games provided a penalty for an AmaZulu. The penalty was neatly dispatched to give the home team a consolation goal on the chilly night.
Final Score: AmaZulu FC 1 NorthEast United FC 3
Match 3: Ethekwini Select XI vs NorthEast United FC
NorthEast United FC took on select Ethekwini Select XI side at the King Zwelithini Stadium in Durban. The team news is as follow:
NEUFC Starting XI: TP Rehenesh, Miguel Garcia (C), Cédric Hengbart, Aiborlang Khongjee, Robin Gurung, Marlangki Suting, Bruno Arias, Seityasen Singh, Simão Sabrosa, Boubacar Sanogo, Diomansy Kamara.
The conditions were very challenging at the King Zwelithini Stadium as cold winds and rains downpour in Durban. The Senegalese striker, Kamara made his first start for the NEUFC on this pre-season tour and looked sharp from the beginning. Quick feet and pacy runs muddled the Ethekwini defence and the former Fulham man looked precarious every time he had the ball at his feet.
The first goal was easily the goal of the afternoon as Bruno Arias released Simão with a stunning pass through a maze of defenders. Upon receiving the ball, Simao ran past the Ethekwini defence and slid the ball between the keeper’s legs to finish the brilliant move off.
Nicolas Velez came in for an injured Kamara and showed his brilliance by latching on to the ball on the right side, showed a turn of pace to cut in, faked a shot; thereby wrong-footing the defence and slotted a left-footed cool finish to make it 0-2 for the NEUFC.
In the second half, the Ethekwini XI started on the front foot, pouring into our half and trying to grab the game by the scruff of the neck forcing Rehenesh to make a series of saves. NEUFC slowly got back into the game and soon got back on scoring terms when Alen drove into the box from the left and cut past the defender. The defender stuck out a leg and down went Alen as a result of the challenge as the referee awarded the penalty to the Highlanders. Francis Dadzie stepped up and powered the ball past the goalkeeper into the left hand corner.
In the 78” minute, Silas provided an assist to open up space for Velez to arrive into the box and tap the ball home for his second goal of the match. The Portuguese attracted two defenders with his movement and created a gap for the Argentine to run into. NEUFC kept a clean sheet and recorded their second victory of the pre-season.
Final Score: Ethekwini Select XI 0 NorthEast United FC 4
Final Verdict: A decent pre-season with 2 victories and 1 loss. The team generally played exciting football through the pre-season. With the ISL season 2 just 2-3 weeks away, it was a good gelling period for the players and the coaching staff. The team should be feeling on a high with a successful pre-season with no injuries to account for. However, the NEUFC team should expect to be challenged by good oppositions in the second edition of ISL.