Sudeva Delhi FC as well as Indian Arrows have blooded in youngsters to meet the rigours of the I-League. When the two sides meet again in Phase 2, the expectation is of a well-contested match with no one prepared to give any quarter.

Sudeva Delhi FC Media

Records will show that in the second game of their debut season in the I-League, Sudeva Delhi FC recorded their first victory. On that day at Kalyani Stadium, the win against Indian Arrows was secured by a 3-0 margin but not as comfortably as the scoreline would suggest. From a nervy debut against Mohammedan Sporting Club, the capital’s first I-League side, it seemed at the time, had settled down. 

It has been more than two months since that win, and a lot has changed  — even though a lot else, courtesy of professionalism in the biosecure bubble, remains constant. Firstly, there is this simple statistic, since that opening win, Sudeva Delhi FC have capped all but four members of their large squad. Many of the players have been debutants, marking their presence on this stage of professional football for the first time in their lives. Of their own 10 academy graduates, all but two remain uncapped, a considerable feat for any club in the league. A squad that was marked by youth and inexperience has been asked to go get some. 

Perhaps the only other club to hand debuts to more players would be the Indian Arrows, The AIFF’s flagship project has survived various iterations and remains committed towards promoting youth at the professional level. Much like SDFC’s youngsters, the Arrows too have slowly found their way in the league, recording some famous victories in the process.

In Phase 2 of the I-League, the youngsters have won two of three games they have played. SDFC go into the encounter with a 100% record.  But caution is the word of the day, and everyone involved with the team is using it to keep heads levelled.

“For me, Indian Arrows have been the most developed and improved side for this season. Match by match, they have improved in leaps and bounds. They have a good squad trained by Venkatesh and Mahesh Gawli and played good attacking football to beat a fantastic team like Aizawl,” SDFC assistant coach Pushpender Kundu said. “They are a brilliant side, and we cannot afford to take them lightly”.

In a pre-match briefing, head coach Chencho Dorji was keen to emphasise this point. He detailed out how experience had helped the Arrows players get better and said that the team they faced in the third week would not be the same as the one tomorrow. But of course, that holds true for Sudeva too.

“I believe a lot of youngsters in our squad also have learnt a lot this season,” Dorji said. “They have learnt how physical this league is, what they need to work on to counter it and where they are definitely on par for the course.” 

In the two sides’ previous encounter, SDFC’s frontline led the charge, their experience — added by Kean Lewis, Ajay Rawat and Shaiborlang Kharpan — helping the club to a super performance. Tomorrow, leading that line will be the youngest player in the Sudeva squad, Shubho Paul, who has also been carrying the captain’s armband for two matches in the league. For Paul, the Arrows game — while hugely testing — will also perhaps be one where he gets to see and play against opponents around his own age, test himself against a peer group more to his own standing. Both his coaches at Sudeva hope the young forward will find it easier to get into a groove. 

“It is tough for such a young player to play at this level of professional football, in the I-League,” Kundu said. “And playing as a striker requires certain physical qualities which he is still developing. Tomorrow, he will get to test himself against his peers, kids around his own age. It will be a good challenge for him.”

And the youngster is up for the challenge, prepping for it in his inimitable style of playing PES and listening to music. If there is pressure it does not show. 

“The last win and three points have been a huge mood lifter and confidence booster for the team,” coach Kundu said. Coach Dorji concurs. As he said in his final address to the team during the briefing: We have won two games on the trot in the second Phase. One more and we go into what is effectively a Phase 2 table decider against Aizawl as the grand finale. It may not sound like much but if we finish in seventh place, it will be a good end to a tough season. There will be regrets but also something positive to build on.”