Atletico battle-ready to defend crown

Kolkata, Sep 24 (IANS) The biggest challenge for a king is to defend his crown and as Atletico de Kolkata get battle-ready with a new look army for the upcoming season of the Indian Super League (ISL), they need to cope with the additional pressure of heightened expectations from their legions of fans.

Barely nine months ago, it was a Mohammed Rafique injury-time header that won them the title in the inaugural edition, but the trophy is up for grabs again and the other seven teams are also pulling out all stops to snatch the silverware from the Kolkata-based franchise this time around.

On paper, Atletico still have one of the best outfits in the league. And even though a lot of changes have been made to the side, it has been about bringing in more quality players.

The biggest replacement has been that of cup-winning captain Luis Garcia, whose shoes would now be filled by Portuguese international Helder Postiga a change done keeping in mind coach Antonio Lopez Habas’ idea of a “fitter and younger” marquee.

The 33-year-old’s biggest strength is that he is a brilliant finisher. He can score goals when a team is in dire need of one. Also he has the knack of being at the right place at the right time and rarely misses out on scoring opportunities.

The other big signing for the defending champions this year has been Canadian forward Iain Hume who is a work-horse. With Hume, one can rest assured that for the 90 minutes in the game he will never stop running or creating chances. The bald assassin was the reason why the Kerala Blasters were so successful last season.

Tactician Habas has paid special attention to boosting the midfield, bringing in the likes of South African Sameehg Doutie, Spaniards Jaime Gavilan Martinez, Valdo and Javi Lara. He has also retained the services of former Real Madrid medio Borja Fernandez and Ofentse Nato. Amongst the Indians, veteran midfielders Syed Rahim Nabi, Clifford Miranda and Jewel Raja have been roped in.

In a bid to strengthen their rearguard which at times leaked crucial goals last year, ATK broke open their piggy bank at the auctions for right back Rino Anto who was scooped in for a mammoth Rs 90 lakhs.

The defence is marshaled by Spaniards Josemi and Tiri alongside national team players like Denzel Franco and Arnab Mondal. The goal keeping duties are on the shoulders of former Mallorca and Malaga custodian Juan Calatayud, Amrinder Singh and Kunzang Bhutia.

ATK come into the tournament after a pre-season training program in Spain where they played against other local teams and won a game 9-0, but the war here will be tough as they lock horns with other heavyweights waiting to unleash the powerhouses that they have built.

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