Salgaocar Sports Club and Kingfisher East Bengal continued their winning streak, notching up their fourth consecutive victories to collect maximum points from the four games played so far. East Bengal earned an 1-0 away win against JCT from their Ludhiana trip, and Salgaocar thrashed AIFF XI by a massive 5-0 margin on their home turf in Margaon. While both the clubs are neck on neck in terms of points scored (12), Salgaocar pips East Bengal to pole position with a better goal difference – the Goan club have a goal difference of +10 compared to East Bengal’s +7.
The week, which produced 20 goals in total, began on an entertaining note when a resurgent Mohun Bagan outfit, managed by new coach Subhash Bhowmick, snatched one point against defending Champions Dempo Sports Club. The match played at Yuvabharati Krirangan, Kolkata, produced a thrilling 2-2 draw. In another high-scoring entertainer, Churchill Brothers humiliated Mumbai FC on their own backyard; Nigerian hitman Odafa Okolie scored four goals for the Goan club in that 5-1 victory. The other three matches of this round ended in stalemates.
The Mumbai Derby between the two institutional clubs Air India and ONGC FC, played at Kohlapur, produced a pale goalless draw. In Kannur, Viva Kerala did well to hold Bangalore based club HAL SC for a 1-1 draw. Pune FC managed to secure another 1-1 draw against Chirag United in the last match of the round played under the floodlit Balewadi Sports Complex.
Star of the Week : Odafa Onyeka Okolie [Churchill]
Churchill’s Odafa Onyeka Okolie, the Golden Boot winner in last three I-League editions, notched up another hat-trick against a helpless Mumbai FC defense. The Nigerian goal-machine scored four of his teams goals in the 5-1 away victory. He equalized in the 19th minute to cancel out Noel Wilson’s opener which had given Mumbai FC the lead in the 13th minute of the match, before giving his side the lead in the 31st minute. Odafa completed his hat-trick in the 74th minute with an immaculate volley before hammering the last nail in the Mumbai FC coffin in the last minute of injury time.
Goal of the Week : Muritala Ali [Mohun Bagan]
The 7th minute strike by the Mohun Bagan striker is arguably his best goal ever on Indian soil. Receiving a ball from Shouvik Chakraborty in the midfield region, Muritala beat two Dempo players by a sudden burst of pace and unleashed a right footed screamer from 30 yards out, which stunned Dempo ‘keeper Laxmikanth Kattimani and landed in the top right corner.
Save of the Week : Shilton Pal [Mohun Bagan]
The man of the match against Dempo, the young Mohun Bagan goalkeeper Shilton Pal, produced not less than four world class saves to earn an important point for his side. His best effort came in the 82nd minute, when he acrobatically dived full length to his left and saved a bullet fired by Ranty Martins from just 12 yards out. He denied the Nigerian striker once again in the 87th minute, hurting himself in the process.
Thriller of the Week : Mohun Bagan 2-2 Dempo SC
Subhash Bhowmick’s famous vocal tonic seems to be working for the struggling Mohun Bagan outfit. The veteran tactician made a tactical switch and opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation, unlike the beleaguered Stanley Rozario who sticked with a rigid 4-3-3 formation throughout his stint as the Bagan coach. Subhash started with two defensive blockers in Jayanta Sen and Souvik Chakraborty in the midfield to counter Dempo’s attacking display. Barreto was given a free role to play as a withdrawal forward behind Muritala Ali.
The tactic worked wonders, as Dempo’s supply line was completely blocked by the 5 men Bagan midfield. Muritala Ali gave the home team an early lead in the 7th minute with a brilliant individual goal. The would have been 2-0 up by the 27th minute, but Jose Barreto wasted a spot kick. His weak penalty was saved by Dempo ‘keeper Kttimani, before Clifton Gonsalves scored the equalizer in the 38th minute.
Both the teams got a few chances in the second half, but lack of finishing by the strikers let Bagan down while Dempo could not find a way to get past Shilton Pal, who produced a number of wonderful saves. The dead lock was broken the 79th minute when Dempo took the lead through Ranty Martins. But the match was far from being over; amidst continuous cheering by the noisy Kolkata crowd, Barreto made amends for his first half penalty miss to score the equalizer with in a couple of minutes. The last 10 minutes was an exciting affair at the Salt Lake stadium, with both the teams going for a winning result. However, in the end, both had to settle for a 2-2 draw to share the honors.
The One-sided Affair of the Week : Salgaocar 5-0 AIFF XI
The star-studded Salgaocar side toyed with the AIFF lads to notch up a 5-0 win and secure the top spot in the league standings. Yusif Yakubu and Ryuiji Sueoka both completed braces inside the first half. It took just 7 minutes for the veteran Ghanaian to score the opener, before he went on to score his second in the 18th minute. Japanese midfielder Sueoka continued his impressive goal scoring form and scored two goals in the 12th and 34th minute. With 4-0 up be the half time whistle, the match was as good as over by the first half. Nigerian striker Ekene Ikenwa came in as a second half substitute to hammer the last nail in the 90th minute to complete 5-0 routing.
The Race for the Golden Boot Award:
1. Odafa Okolie [Churchill] – 8
2. Ryuiji Sueoka [Salgaocar] -5
3. Elija Junior [Chirag] – 4
The foreign domination continued in the top scorer chart, as Churchill Brothers’ Odafa Onyeka Okolie, the leading scorer after round-3 with four goals, doubled his tally to stay clear of second placed Ryuiji Sueoka. Chirag United’s Elija Junior scored his side’s only goal of the match against Pune FC to move to third spot with four goals. East Bengal’s Tolgay Ozbey and Salgaocar’s Yusif Yakubu both have three goals against their names.
Team of the Week:
For the first time in this edition, we are having a new face on goal. Although last three week’s first choice ‘keeper Sandip Nandy still remains the only ‘keeper to concede a goal in the league, one can’t oversight the brilliant performance of Mohun Bagan’s Shilton Pal who, deservedly, gets his first cap in the “Team of the Week” nominations.
Uga Okpara, the man of the match for East Bengal against JCT, will start at the heart of the defense alongside Chirag United’s Chika Wali, who had a solid outing against Pune FC. Mohun Bagan’s Sheikh Azim is the preferred right full back and he will be partnered by Pune FC’s Sunil Kumar Siwach on the opposite flank.
East Bengal’s Mehtab Hussain has rediscovered himself under the new British coach Trevor James Morgan, and he is arguably the best player for East Bengal so far in this season. The double cylinder – as he is known in the team circle – had a great match against JCT as well, stringing attacks after attack for the Kolkata outfit as the deep lying play-maker. He will have the same responsibility in the “Team of the Week” as well. Salgaocar’s Ryuiji Sueoka will complement Mehtab in the midfield, playing the role of an attacking medio. To provide width to the team’s attack, East Bengal’s Sanju Pradhan and Churchill Brothers’ Bineesh Balan will take over the responsibility of wing play.
“Star of the Week” Churchill Brothers’ talisman Odafa Okolie is an automatic choice for one of the two striker’s slot. Salgaocar’s veteran forward Yusif Yakubu will be partnering the Nigerian hitman upfront. Incidentally this forward line is also the combination of two most successful strikers in the history of Indian national league. Yakubu leads the all time national football league scoring chart with over 100 goals to his name, followed closely by Odafa, who has been the top scorer in last three I-League seasons.