The first week of an exciting I-League season witnessed action-packed drama with some nail biting finishes. While Salgaocar had an easy outing against Viva Kerala, dumping the home team convincingly, Kingfisher East Bengal and Chirag United had to sweat it out to clinch all three points against newcomers ONGC FC and AIFF XI respectively. Mumbai FC managed to win the Mumbai derby by 2-1 margin against Air India and Pune FC staged a late comeback to hold Mohun Bagan 1-1. The most anticipated clash of round-1, the Goan derby between Churchill Brothers and Dempo SC, ended in a stalemate when Churchill’s star striker Odafa Okolie’s 86th minute strike canceled out Clifton Gonsalves’s goal. The surprise of the week was saved for the crowd in Gurgaon, where the newly promoted HAL SC conjured up a shocking win over home team JCT FC.
Goal of the week:
AIFF XI’s Lalrindika brought the team scores level, scoring an amazing individual goal against Chirag United in the opening match of the league. Lalrindika got hold of a long clearance from AIFF XI ‘Keeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in the middle of the pitch and unleashed an unstoppable screamer on the run from 30 yards out which left the vastly experienced Chirag goalkeeper Abhijit Mondal completely stranded. It was a world class finish indeed.
Star of the week:
Chirag United’s Elija Junior Obagbemiro is TheHardTackle’s “Star of the week”. He scored a brilliant brace against AIFF XI, in the first half of the match, in almost identical fashion. The “Jo-Jo” attacking combination of Chirag, Joshimar and Junior, displayed a great sense of understanding when the former’s square pass from the left side of the AIFF box was brilliantly converted to goal by Junior as early as the second minute of the match. Junior’s second goal was almost a replica of the first one, but this time Joshimar fed him from the left of the box and the flamboyant striker made no mistake slotting the ball inside the goal-line.
Save of the week:
East Bengal goalkeeper Sandip Nandy might have expected a quiet game against the newly promoted ONGC outfit. But the young brigade matched their illustrious counterparts shot for shot and Sandip Nandy had to pull off no less than four superb stops to deny the attacking pair of Babatunde and N.D.Opara. The best save from the experienced I-League ‘keeper came in the early minutes of the second half when N.D.Opara ran through the left wing and then cut inside to unleash a bullet like shot at the East Bengal goal. But Sandip was equal to the task; he dived full stretch to his right and parried the ball over the cross-bar.
Shocker of the week:
Bangalore based club HAL SC, playing their debut I-League match against former Champions JCT FC in the industrial city of Gurgaon surprised everyone with a surprise 1-0 win. Xavier Vijaykumar scored the only goal of the match in the 13th minute. JCT tried their best to break HAL’s defense, but the young players played their hearts out and defended resolutely to earn all three points on their maiden appearance in the country’s top tier football league. The win served notice to other clubs that the minnows were not going to mere pushovers for others to steamroll.
The Great Escape:
The Goan derby attracted a lot of attention among the Indian football fans, but the game failed to live up to the huge expectation. Both the coaches preferred to deploy a safety-first approach and there was hardly any decent attacking move throughout the first half. The second half started with some intent and Dempo took the lead in the 59th minute through Clifton Gonsalves. The match came back to life soon after the Churchill players led by talisman Odafa Okolie, pressed hard for the equalizer. Just when it seemed like Dempo would be able to clinch all three points, Odafa scored the equalizer with just three minutes to go to snatch a point for the 2008/09 I-League Champions.
The Top-Scorer Race:
After the first round of matches, which saw a total 15 goals being scored, Chirag United’s Junior Obagbemero and Salgaocar’s Ryuji Sueoka lead the goal scoring chart with two goals each. Among the more prominent names, last three season’s top scorer Churchill’s Odafa Okolie, East Bengal’s goal-machine Tolgay Ozbey and Pune FC’s Japanese midfielder Izumi Arata have one goal apiece to their names.
Team of the week:
East Bengal’s Sandip Nandy will wear the big gloves to guard the goal-post in the team of the first week. The four-men back-line will be formed by HAL’s Rohit Chand and Chirag’s Arnab Mondal, at the center of the defense, with East Bengal’s Naoba Singh and ONGC’s Robin Gurung as the full backs.
East Bengal’s Mehtab Hussain and Salgaocar’s Ryuji Sueoka will play at the heart of the midfield, while Mehtab will act as the creator and a defensive screen to shield the back line, Sueoka will play as the attacking midfielder just behind the two strikers. Mohun Bagan’s Snehashish Chakraborty will partner East Bengal’s Sanju Pradhan on the wings. Chirag’s “Jo-Jo”, Joshimar and Junior will be the two strikers to complete this week’s starting 11.