Five key players to watch in India’s ISL

Indian footballer Sunil Chhetri
Indian footballer Sunil Chhetri

NEW DELHI: The third edition of the Indian Super League begins this weekend. AFP Sport takes a look at five key players in the 11-week tournament:

Lucio (Goa)
The much-travelled Brazilian has a CV to die for after playing for European giants Juventus, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich as well as winning the 2002 World Cup in Japan. Now aged 38, he remains an imposing presence at centre-back and will captain Goa under another Brazilian legend, Zico. Goa reached the final last year but their defeat to Chennaiyin came at a heavy price as they were fined after a post-match brawl. Despite that setback, Lucio says he is up for the challenge in this year’s contest, saying he wants to go one better with FC Goa this year signing for a second season with the coastal outfit.

John Arne Riise (Chennaiyin)
Now 36, the former Liverpool and Roma player is back for a second stint in the ISL after playing last year with the Delhi Dynamos. A left-back famed for his spectacular long-range shooting, the red-headed Riise is best known for his seven-year spell with Liverpool in which he made nearly 250 appearances. His finest hour came when the team from Merseyside won the 2005 Champions League against AC Milan after being 3-0 down at half-time. Born in the city of Molde on the shores of Norway’s Romsdalsfjord, he won a record 110 caps for his country in a career that also saw him play club football in France and Cyprus.

Sunil Chhetri (Mumbai City)
India’s most capped player and all-time top-scorer, the 32-year-old Chhetri netted seven in last year’s ISL. His partnership with the veteran former Manchester United forward Diego Forlan will be key to their hopes of becoming champions. Mumbai City failed to make the semi-finals in either of the two earlier editions but their new-look forward line looks the most potent on paper. Chettri is also likely to relish playing with the affable Forlan after spending last season alongside the famously brooding figure of Frenchman Nicolas Anelka. Mumbai will play their home matches this year in the new Mumbai Sports Arena in the northern suburb of Andheri, where Chhetri spurred India to a 4-1 victory over Puerto Rico earlier in September.

Florent Malouda (Delhi Dynamos)
A beaten World Cup finalist in 2006, Malouda used to partner the great Zinedine Zidane in France’s midfield. So he will doubtless be looking forward to Delhi’s showdowns against Chennaiyin and their Italian coach Marco Materazzi, whom Zidane infamously headbutted in the 2006 final. Along with his 80 international caps, Malouda was an English Premier League and Champions League winner with Chelsea in a six-year spell that ended acrimoniously when he was forced to train with the youth team by the Blues’ coach at the time, Roberto Di Matteo. After enjoying an earlier ISL stint with the Delhi Dynamos, Malouda most recently appeared with Wadi Degla earlier this year in Egypt’s top-flight.

Iain Hume (Atletico de Kolkata)
The Scottish-born Canadian international has made a remarkable comeback since his skull was fractured during a match while playing for Barnsley in England’s second tier in 2008. Doctors feared for his life and he was left with an 18-inch horseshoe scar. He battled back to play again in the same season but seemed destined to never quite fulfill his early promise. But since signing for Kerala Blasters in the first edition of the ISL, the powerful centre-forward has been arguably the tournament’s outstanding player. He won the Most Valuable Player award in 2014 and was the ISL’s second highest scorer last year with 11 after making the switch from Kerala to Kolkata. Kolkata’s chances of winning a second title after their triumph in the inaugural edition will depend in large part on the 32-year-old’s link-up with former Spurs striker Helder Postiga. The Portuguese scored twice in his debut for Atletico last season before getting injured and missing the rest of the competition.- AFP

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