Chennaiyin FC is making all-out effort to garner support from Pune football players and academies for some noise going into the first-leg semifinal, designated a ‘home game’ for the visitors, at neutral Balewadi stadium. Jeje Lalpekhlua, a known face in Pune due to successful season with I-League squad Pune FC, is activating his north-east network, so is assistant coach Vivek Nagul.
Italian famous World Cupper Marco Materazzi, head coach, summed up the mood within, saying: “We will fight for our fans,” referring the thousands back home in Chennai busy with emergencies due to flood waters. The buzz from Chennaiyin supporters is missing, the roar in the galleries around Chennai’s Marina Arena cannot be recreated at Balewadi.
Chennaiyin set up training base in Pune for a week and took advantage of Pune FC infrastructure to prepare against ATK, coached by Materaazi’s friendly rival Antonio Habas. “We respect each other. He is fighting on the sideline, almost as if he is playing. I want to win, so it is good we are not playing, otherwise both would be booked (for fouls),” said the Italian, not happy playing at a neutral venue, far away from fans.
The team is planning a symbolic gesture, to show support for people back in Chennai struggling to put their lives together. Chennaiyin FC is planning to lend a hand in relief and rehabilitation. Winning a make-or-break football game is a step in that direction. Cheer from Jeje supporters in the stands and Nagul’s friends decked out in team colours are little steps that go a long way in boosting confidence.
A huge Chennaiyin FC poster is visible at the stadium entrance, covering the FC Pune City hoarding behind. The two sides clashed in ISL League phase, the visitors winning by a goal from former Pune FC player Jeje. Each time he touches the ball at Balewadi on Saturday night, fans here now have a reason to roar. The second leg tie will be played away on December 16 at Salt Lake stadium, home base for ATK.
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