Arguably the more intriguing of the two groups of the 115th IFA shield is the all-Indian Group, Group B. With Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan and Chirag Utd; 2009 Fed Cup finalists Shillong Lajong; local lads and former Shield holders – the Techno Aryan Club ; and the underdogs from the fastest growing football city of India – Pune Football Club ; this group has everything in it to stage surprises one after the other.
Mohun Bagan AC
Last year’s runner up and the last of the Kolkata teams to lift the IFA Shield , the Green and Maroon brigade are the favorites to top the Group unless Chirag United and Pune FC snatch points away from them. Barreto , Manish Mathani , Jayanta Sen and Snehashish in the middle can surely cancel out PFC’s Venkatesh and Lester and United’s Tulunga and Lalkamal whereas Anwar and Deepak in defense will put the out of form Brazilians Joshimar and Edmar at bay. Subhash Bhowmick could test out Biswajit Saha , Sheikh Azim , Sangram Mandi and Dhanarajan against Shillong and Aryans. The exciting young talent, Dipendu Dowary, may even earn a debut start against Shillong Lajong on the 15th. Mohun Bagan would have to eventually face arch rivals East Bengal and Shandong Luneng if they are to lift the 2011 IFA shield so a good show in the Group Stage can just be an ideal setting for the real task ahead! However they are almost certain to qualify for the semi final stage.
Chirag United’s topsy turvy I-League season means that they are heading nowhere and sit pretty mid table. With nothing to play for in the National League they have enough impetus to go for their maiden IFA Shield title. They edged pass group rivals Pune on 8th March by a solitary goal at the Salt Lake and are surely capable of pulling off wins on their day. Having said this , United have the worst defensive record of all the top division teams participating in the IFA Shield having let in 21 goals from 17 encounters this season ! With Nigerians Chikha Wali in defense and Junior Obagbemiro and Sunil Chhetri upfront this Subrata Bhattacharya managed side has it in them to go all the way, but will they? It will be a close contest between Chirag and Pune FC for obtaining the second semi final berth from Group-B, making the Chirag v PFC affair a virtual knock out tie for both the teams.
The North-Eastern outfit have just come from Pune losing the finals of the Abhijeet Kadam Memorial Foundation Championships 2011 to their 2nd Division rivals Sporting Club de Goa. The 4 – 0 scoreline looks demoralizing but Lajong had played well throughout the tourney. Samson Remengmawia after the Semi’s against JCB Bhilai mentioned ” Our experience playing the I-league is crucial and its important not to concede goals in knock outs like these ” . Shillong Lajong are surely more of a Cup team than a league one. The Cup Competition formats suits them very well as they can surely produce some top notch football over couple of weeks once they are into their groove. They stand an outside chance to register a semi final berth in this Shield edition!
Pune Football Club
The Red Lizards are exactly opposite to their Eastern Counterparts in terms of clicking in Cup Format as PFC have traditionally taken time to settle down in tournaments. Derrick Periera’s side build momentum slowly and as the tourney progresses they peak big time. That’s ideal for a longer league format and hence a 5 team group stage can just prove to be a blessing for Pune. It has not been the best of season so far PFC in the I-League. Gurjinder and Asim Hasan have shown signs of brilliance with the starts that they have got as midfielders Ajayan and Paresh havent yet played to their full potential thus the Reds lack possession and build up play. Scoring goals against Pune is a tough task thanks to super custodian Subrata Paul. And with Arata and Keita supporting Edmar they have the quality to strike too.With United playing their last match of the group against Mohun Bagan ; Pune play on the last Matchday against Shillong which could well be a virtual quarter final for them as they would know by then exactly what they need from the encounter to qualify for the Semis!
Techno Aryan Club
The Second Division I-League Club from Kolkata with an amazing history could pull in a few surprises if they manage to earn some points against Shillong and Pune. The 115th IFA shield being held just before the 2nd Division I-League Kick Off means that the Aryans are up for some quality games against I-League opponents which could be very useful for their National League qualification campaign. Defense is their main strength, with veteran Anupam Sarkar guarding the central defense. 18 years old exciting prospect Sourav Chakraborty, who was fabulous for Aryan in the Kolkata League, is also there to help out Anupam in his defensive duties. The presence of a shrwed tactician like Raghu Nandy will surely give them an added advantage. They may not qualify for the semi final stage, however having held Chirag United to a 1-1 draw this October in CFL the Aryans could play a huge spoil sport to teams vying for qualification!