The thrills and the spills, the hits and the misses – the I-League round-2 matches witnessed them all. While most of the bigwigs, except East Bengal, got off to a stuttering start, the so-called minnows continue to lead the standings with the help of gritty performances. Only four clubs – Salgaocar, Mumbai FC, HAL SC and Kingfisher East Bengal – could manage the maximum six points after two rounds and Salgaocar maintained their pole position by virtue of a superior goal difference with a hard-fought 4-3 win over Chirag United. HAL SC carried on with their giant killing form to upset Mohun Bagan at their own den. Mumbai FC got the better of their Pune counterparts in the 2-0 home victory.
In the eagerly anticipated battle of round-2, title contenders Kingfisher East Bengal made their intentions clear with a dominating win over the reigning I-League Champions Dempo Sports Club. Elsewhere, Churchill Brothers once again dropped points as they were held to a 1-1 draw by JCT FC. The other two matches of this round, AIFF XI vs ONGC and Air India vs Viva Kerala ended in 1-1 stalemates.
But the biggest news of the week is undoubtedly the Rs 700 Crore telecast and marketing rights deal with Reliance Industries Limited (RIL)-International Management Group (IMG). The RIL-IMG group also agreed to pay Rs 70 Crore to Zee Group on behalf of AIFF for the premature termination of telecast contract. Also, as a part of the deal, IMG Reliance Pvt Ltd has decided to sponsor the under-15 national football team for four years. It has been learned that that initially Reliance-IMG wanted to sign a 30-year deal, but the astringent experience with Zee Sports impelled AIFF to settle for a 15 years agreement. The new contract is expected to be formally signed during tomorrow’s AIFF Annual General Meeting.
Another good news for the I-League fans came on the live telecast front. With the Mohun Bagan –HAL SC match, Kolkata based TV channel 24 Ghanta began their journey of telecasting I-League matches live. Although the quality of the footages and the commentary still leaves a lot to be desired, the fans are happy to catch the actions live and hope that the telecast will eventually improve with time.
Goal of the Week:
East Bengal’s Tolgay Ozbey scored the only goal of the match and his 16th goal of the season against defending champions Dempo early in the second half. Penn Orji sent a through ball towards Tolgay just outside the penalty spot. Dempo goalkeeper Laxmikanth Kattimani charged out of his line but Tolgay was quicker; he rounded him off and dodged another defender inside the six yards box to score with a brilliant finish.
Star of the Week:
It’s debatable whether even a hard-core I-League fan had ever heard the name of Gilbert Olivera before the Salgaocar-Chirag match. But the young lad has become a household name in Goa after his match winning brace for Salgaocar in the second round match. He also notched up the record for fastest I-League goal in the process when he slotted home the opener within just 26 seconds of the kick-off. He made the occasion memorable by scoring another one in the 54th minute to complete his brace.
Save of the Week:
TheHardTackle’s “Save of the week” award goes to East Bengal custodian Sandip Nandy for the second time in a row. Sandip is also the only goalkeeper in this edition of the league to still remain unbeaten. The veteran ‘keeper was at his best against Dempo and pulled off few classy saves in the process to collect the official man of the match award as well. The timing of the save makes it even more special. Only few second were remaining for the final whistle and with East Bengal up by just one goal, Dempo was trying desperately to salvage at-least a point. Kalu made a daunting run down the right flank and provided a square pass for the onrushing Ranty Martins inside the East Bengal box. But Sandip Nandy showed great anticipation and reflexes to quickly charge in and snatch the ball from Ranty Martins boots. Another clean-sheet and the man of the match award were the icing on the cake for the former India number 1.
Thriller of the Week:
Salgaocar vs Chirag United match witnessed a nail biting finish. Salgaocar took a 2-0 lead in first quarter of the match but Chirag fought back diligantly to make it 2-1 just at the stroke of half time – thanks to Joshimar Martins wonderful strike. The Salgaocar academy product Gilbert Olivera, who also scored the first goal of the match, took advantage of Chirag custodian Abhijit Mondal’s butter fingers to reclaim the two goal cushion for the home team in the 55th minute.
But Chirag was not finished yet. They made it 3-2 with just over 20 mins remaining and launched an all out attack. Salgaocar waited patiently and hit them on the counter to make it 4-2 in the 88th minute. Chirag could only manage to pull one back in the injury time through Junior Obagbemiro. The final result was 4-3 in favor of Salgaocar and Chirag might just feel hard done by a couple of refereeing blunders.
Bangalorean official Mr. Shekhar failed to spot a shameless foul inside the box on Denson Devadas by Salgaocar defender Yashpal Singh before ignoring a blatant handball by the Salgaocar captain Lusiano Sabrosa inside the penalty area, denying Chirag’s two obvious penalty appeals.
Shocker of the Week:
It was again up to the Bangalore-based office outfit HAL SC to provide the viewers another surprise win. This time it was Mohun Bagan who fell flat in front of the giant-killers. Vijesh Kumar took advantage of a faulty clearance by the Green & Maroon ‘keeper Sangram Mukherjee to put HAL ahead in the 21st minute. Bagan equalized after ten minutes through their star striker Jose Barreto, but Shekhar Muralidharan’s brilliant header in the 80th minute dashed all hopes for the Kolkata giants and HAL registered their second impressive win of the season.
The Kolkata vs Goa Supremacy Battle:
I-League round-2 witnessed two clashes involving teams from Kolkata and Goa. Both the matches, Salgaocar vs Chirag and Dempo vs East Bengal were home games for the Goan teams Salgaocar and Dempo respectively. While Salgaocar got the better of Chirag with a closely contested 4-3 win, defending I-League Champion Dempo surrendered against the Federation Cup Champion East Bengal to restore parity in the Kolkata vs Goa duel.
East Bengal displayed brilliant exhibition of total football and dominated the entire 98 minutes of the match, including the 8 minutes of injury time to come out winners in the hostile Goa environment. The 1-0 score-line does not tell the true story. While Okpara’s header and Tolgay’s volley recocheted off the woodwork in the first half, the woodwork came to Dempo’s rescue once again in the second half when Robin Singh’s left footed scorcher rattled the cross-bar. Another exemplar of the Red & Gold dominance can be validated from the sight of Ranty Martins falling back deep into his own box to help out the Dempo defenders. This might be the only instance when the Dempo fans noticed the Nigerian goal-machine more concerned about saving goals than scoring one himself.
The Golden Boot Race:
Preveous week’s top scorer Ryuji Seoka and Junior Obagbemiro added one goal each to their kitty to lead the scoring chart with three goals apiece after round-2. Churchill Brothers’ talisman Odafa Okolie and East Bengal ‘s Tolgay Ozbey too scored the solitary goals for their team in this round to stay one adrift of the leaders. Salgaocar’s academy product Gilbert Olivera and team mate Anthony Barbosa have scored two goals each.
Team of the Week:
Another week and another splendid display – East Bengal’s Sandip Nandy seems to be getting back to his old rhythm and he will be manning the goalpost for the second week in a row for TheHardTackle’s “Team of the week”.
AIFF XI’s Raju Gaekwad had a solid outing against ONGC SC and he will partner East Bengal’s Uga Okpara at the centre of the defence. Okpara performed admirably well against Dempo and kept a lid on star striker Ranty Martins throughout the entire match. HAL SC’s R. Srikanth and East Bengal’s Naoba Singh are the full backs in this weeks team.
Salgaocar’s attacking midfielder Ryuji Sueoka and East Bengal’s playmaker Mehtab Hussain will marshal the central midfield, while Salgaocar’s Anthony Barbosa and Chirag United’s Denson Devadas will be playing on the wings.
It will be another Salgaocar-Chirag pairing in the attacking department – where the promising youngster Gilbert Olivera will be partnering the experienced Junior Obagbemiro to shoulder the scoring responsibilities.