With the conclusion of Round-13 matches, I-League 2010/11 season has reached the half way stage. The Red-&-Gold brigade from Kolkata – Kingfisher East Bengal – still remain unbeaten in the league campaign and if they can finish the 2010/11 edition of the I-League being “invincibles”, that would create a record in the history of Indian national football league. Salgaocar continued their hot pursuit to pull East Bengal off the summit in the league standings, but fell short by 3 points at the half-way mark. Churchill Brothers made their way up to the Top-3 at the cost of defending champions Dempo, who are struggling to strike the optimal balance in their squad composition after welcoming back the national players in their rank.
The battle in the other half of the table – the relegation battle – is even more exciting. For the last two positions in the league standings, which belongs to the drop zone, it’s been a musical chair game between three teams since the start of the season. Newly promoted ONGC FC, the pride of Keralites Viva Kerala and Mumbai’s domestic league champions Air India are battling it out in this three-pronged survival of fittest battle. A late surge of form has seen Air India put up a commendable display in the last three rounds to stay just above the drop zone, in the 12th position, 2 points above the 13th placed Viva and a further one point beyond the bottom placed ONGC FC.
Now let’s find out exactly how each team have performed by the midway stage of the season compared to the pre-season predictions. Have they exceeded the pre-season expectations or have they been a disappointment? TheHardTackle takes a look at how the 14 teams in I-League have performed so far in the first half of the season and what would be their possible finishing positions in the season finale. We would evaluate the teams on a scale of grading system comprising of 5 performance grades – A: Excellent, B: Very Good, C: Decent, D: Poor, E: Absolute Rubbish.
Note: The Performance Evaluation is in Alphabetical Order.
I-League 2009/10 Performance – 12th
Pre-season Prediction – 13th
Mid-season Standing – 12th
The Airmen started their campaign on a positive note and climbed to the 7th position by the end of round-2. However a string of poor performances saw them drop to the rock bottom of the table by the end of round-6. Their sole aim at the start of the season was to stay afloat in the top tier football and one has to admit that coach Yusuf Ansari did his homework pretty well as they managed to notch up winning results against fellow relegation battlers in HAL SC and Viva Kerala. Nevertheless the high point of their season is certainly the 4-0 win over reigning I-League Champions Dempo SC in round-11. They remain unbeaten ever since this moral boosting win and the Airmen managed to snatch a point off second placed Salgaocar SC and 6th placed Mohun Bagan in the subsequent two matches.
Yusuf Ansari would do his best to choose his games wisely and collect as many points as possible against weaker sides – the matches which would be virtually 6-pointers for Air India in their quest to survive the relegation scare. It would be imprudent to expect them to notch up surprise wins against top teams in the second half, but if their recent run of performance is anything to go by, it would be justified to say that they have the ammunition to stay afloat in the I-League next season.
Star Performers – Samsong Singh, Kunal Sawant, Okorogor Praise, Manjit Singh
Expected Finishing Position – 12th
Grade – D
Pre-season Prediction – 5th
Midseason Standings – 7th
Subrata Bhattacharya managed Chirag United has already made a reputation for playing the game with a calculative approach. While they cannot be termed as a ultra defensive unit, the Kolkata based outfit prefers a safety first approach playing against the stronger teams to ensure them of at-least a point. They managed to hold on title contenders East Bengal and Dempo to share the spoils, whereas similar approach has resulted in a win against Mohun Bagan. Having said that, Chirag played with attacking mindset against a comparatively less stronger team like ONGC and managed to conjure up a convincing victory. Going for an attacking approach has cost them a couple of high-scoring thrillers against Salgaocar and Churchill Brothers, that’s why one can expect them to be more cautious while facing the top-5 teams in the return leg fixture.
Star Performers – Lalkamal Bhowmick, Arnab Mondal, Junior Elijah, Denson Devadas
Expected Finishing Position – 7th
Grade – C
Churchill Brothers SC
Pre-season Prediction – 4th
Midseason Standings – 3rd
The 2008/09 I-League Champions blew hot and cold in this campaign. They started the season with a couple of draws, before winning against Kolkata giant Mohun Bagan in round-3 before thrashing Mumbai FC 5-1 in the next round. However Churchill witnessed a slump of form and drew their matches against weaker teams like Viva Kerala and ONGC FC, before slumping to their maiden defeat of the season against Salgaocar. Star striker Odafa Okolie’s absence due to injury had dealt them with a huge blow, but New Zealand striker Kayne Vincent’s signing proved to be a master-stroke as the Goan team finished the first half at an impressive third spot with 26 points, 5 points behind table topper East Bengal FC.
Odafa is expected to return to full match fitness from round-14 onwards and with the availability of national stars like Steven Dias and Mohhamed Rafi, they are expected to throw up a massive challenge for the title battle in the second part of the season. Odafa-Vincent combo in the attacking third can prove to be lethal and if they can find a bit of consistency, they have the potential to recapture the I-League crowd by the end of the season.
Star Performers – Odafa Okolie, Kayne Vincent, Steven Dias, MP Zakeer
Expected Finishing Position – 3rd
Grade – B
Pre-season Prediction – 2nd
Midseason Standings – 4th
The reigning I-League Champions were one of the strong title contenders in the pre-season. However, the absence of Indian national players due to the AFC Asian Cup campaign hit them hard as they failed to flourish in the initial stages. After sharing the spoils with Churchill Brothers in their opening match, they were outclassed by Trevor James Morgan’s East Bengal side at their own backyards and since then they had to play the catch-up game. A 4-0 thrashing at the hands of relegation battlers Air India has been the lowest point in their campaign. Dempo faithful hoped that with national players coming back in the camp after serving the country, their campaign will be back on track; however it backfired. The lack of understanding among the newly joined players with the rest of the squad was clearly evident as they failed to perform as a team. So far they have garnered 22 points and are 9 points adrift of pace setters East Bengal at the halfway stage.
Nevertheless coach Armando Colaco has no dearth of quality in his armor and they are expected to put up a much improved performance in the second half of the season. Signs of improvements were visible in the last couple of rounds when they notched up convincing away wins in Bangalore and Kannur. They will be firmly on course to set up a new benchmark by capturing the I-League crown for a record 5th time by the end of the campaign in the month of May.
Star Performers – Beto, Ranty Martins, Anthony Barbosa
Expected Finishing Position – 4th
Grade – B
East Bengal FC
Pre-season Prediction – 1st
Midseason Standings – 1st
It has been a performance delivered as per the script for the Red-&-Gold brigade from Kolkata. In accordance with our pre-season forecasts, Trevor James Morgan’s East Bengal side remain unbeaten in the first half of the season, being comfortably placed at the summit of I-League standings with 31 points. It will be a new benchmark in the history of Indian football league if they can go on and claim their 4th I-League title remaining invincible. The perfect blend of aggression and caution has seen them notch up clinical wins in the crucial matches. Although they have missed a few key players like Alvito D’Cunha, Vasum, Nirmal Chhetri in the entire first half, the replacements fitted in to the scheme of things smoothly and the entire squad performed like a well-oiled machine.
With the signing of Brazilian striker Alexander da Silva and the arrival of national players like Mehrajuddin Wadoo, Rahim Nabi, Sushil Kumar Singh have further strengthened the side. Also with Nirmal and Vasum being match-fit at the moment and Alvito on the verge of recovering, Morgan will have a plethora of choices to select the starting line-up from. However the strikers’ lack of finishing would keep Morgan concerned. Tolgay, Robin and Penn, all have been culpable of misfiring sitters at an alarming frequency. East Bengal have set the pace right from the onset to maintain their lead in the points table till the half way mark and the pre-season favorites remain the firm contender to capture their 4th I-League crown come next May.
Star Performers – Mehtab Hussain, Sandip Nandy, Uga Okpara, Naoba Singh, Tolgay Ozbey
Expected Finishing Position – 1st
Grade – A
I-League 2009/10 Performance – Promoted
Pre-season Prediction – 12th
Midseason Standings – 9th
Star Performers – Xavier Vijaykumar, R.C. Prakash, Murali J.
By mid-season, HAL SC has been the pick of the teams in the bottom half of the table. They stunned the Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan in round-2 and performed admirably well to collect 14 points so far to hold on to an impressive 9th spot in the league table. The fighting away win against Pune FC in round-10 has further boosted their morale and they are expected to finish in lower mid-table zone by the end of the campaign. HAL will play 10 home leg matches in the second half and the home advantage has certainly given them the edge over their mid-table competitors.
Expected Finishing Position – 11th
Grade – C
I-League 2009/10 Performance – Debut Season
Pre-season Prediction – 8th
Mid-season Standing – 11th
It will be interesting to see if the change in name can change the fortune for the Indian Arrows, earlier known as AIFF XI, in the second half of the league campaign. The Indian U-19 players have so far been largely inconsistent as often they have failed to continue with the winning momentum and have blown up their chances to climb to the top half of the table. They are a talented bunch of kids, no doubt about that, but they are yet to prove that they belong to this elite group of top tier football in the country. Keeping an eye on the future development, the team has constantly rotated its players so that everyone gets enough opportunity to make the experience of playing in the I-League count. They will be representing the country in the upcoming Olympics qualifier and the exposure at this level will be vital for them. They are not under pressure to perform or perish as they will not be relegated even if they finish at the rock bottom. This is actually a double-edged sword, on one hand it can make them complacent, while it may also motivate them to perform at their best as they will be playing without the survival fear in their minds.
Star Performers – Shilton D’Silva, Jewel Raja, Malswamfela
Expected Finishing Position – 9th
Grade – D
Pre-season Prediction – 10th
Mid-season Standing – 10th
The Phagwara based club struggled in the initial part of the season before Sukhwinder Singh, after completeing his national commitment in the Asian Games, joined as the chief coach. A solid rearguard display ensured them of hard-fought wins against Mohun Bagan, ONGC and Air India to consolidate their position in the league table. However two successive loses against Salgaocar and Pune FC dashed their hopes of finishing higher up by the mid-season and a late equalizer against Mumbai FC saved them of further blues in the round-13. The problem for Sukhi’s team has been a dried up forward-line. They are finding it difficult to break through opposition defense because of the lack of any creative force in the midfield.
They are currently placed at the 10th position with 13 points in their kitty. However with a shrewd tactician of the caliber of Sukhwinder Singh being at the helm of affairs, they will be keen to finish the season in the top half of the league standings.
Star Performers – Keke Ibrahim, Amandeep Singh, Omoloja Kareem, Pawan Kumar
Expected Finishing Position –10th
Grade – C
Mohun Bagan AC
Pre-season Prediction – 6th
Mid-season Standing – 6th
The Mariners became the first club to sack their coach in the season when they replaced Stanley Rozario with Subhash Bhowmick after a string of pathetic performances in the initial round of matches. The decision to trust Mr. Bhowmick, who has a truck-load of experience in top tier Indian football proved to be a master-stroke, as by the half-way mark Mohun Bagan not only staged a spirited comeback, but also clawed their way back to the 6th position in the standings. The 1-1 stalemate against the city rivals and table topper East Bengal in the recently concluded Kolkata derby would give them the much needed confidence boost. They may not be running for a top-3 slot by the end of the season, but they can surely play the kingmaker’s role in the final title challenge being the party-poopers for the leading teams.
Star Performers – Jose Barreto, Shilton Paul, Chidi Edeh, Ishfaq Ahmed
Expected Finishing Position – 5th
Grade – B
I-League 2009/10 Performance – 11th
Pre-season Prediction – 11th
Mid-season Standing – 5th
Khalid Jamil hardly ceases to surprise. After going through financial crisis, which made the sponsors to even think about disbanding the team, not even the die-hard Mumbai FC fan would have hoped that they will be sitting pretty at 5th spot by the mid-season mark. But Khalid Jamil, the youngest ever coach in the history of I-League, once-again delivered at the crunch situation. The Mumbai based team has been on a consistent run from the start of the season and they have garnered 21 points so far to achieve their first target – which was to avoid the drop.
But it’s easier to climb to the top-5 standing than maintaining the same. Khalid Jamil’s boys will face the heat in the return leg fixtures and the latest dope scandal, the first of its kind in I-League, involving MFC midfielder Nishanth Mehra, will surely test their nerves in the remaining part of the season.
Star Performers – Ebi Sukore, Ishant Debnath, Henry Ezeh, Noel Wilson
Expected Finishing Position – 6th
Grade – B
I-League 2009/10 Performance – Promoted
Pre-season Prediction – 9th
Mid-season Standing – 14th
The Mumbai based institutional team qualified for the I-League by winning the 2nd Division title last year. With the aim of making a mark on its debut appearance, the club officials had built a decent squad, but unfortunately the quality on the team-list did not reflected on the football pitch as they struggled to match their I-League opponents and lie in the rock bottom of the league standings with a paltry 7 points in their kitty. A side comprising of proven shot-stopper like Rajat Ghosh Dastider, Peter Odafe at the heart of the defense, former Indian international Jatin Singh Bist in the role of a creator and Babatunde–ND Opara combo upfront does not deserve to be placed on the floor. Fear of relegation is looming large over their head and only a miracle can save them from getting the axe by the end of the season.
As in the case with the cornered cats, having their back struck on the wall, ONGC may come out all guns blazing. However because of the poor collection in the first half of the season, a late surge may prove to be insufficient in the end.
Star Performers – ND Opara, Rajat Ghosh Dastider, Babtunde, Peter Odafe
Expected Finishing Position – 13th
Grade – E
Pre-season Prediction – 7th
Mid-season Standing – 8th
Having stunned one and all with their terrific performance in their debut appearance last season, Pune FC was tagged as the dark horses this time around. However Derrick Pereira’s team had a reality check and their campaign crash-landed even before it could take off. But with Mondjou Keita back from the long injury lay-off and Edmar Figuera getting back to form, PFC launched an impressive fight-back winning back to back games against JCT and Indian Arrows in last two rounds – which has taken them to a respectable 8th position with 14 points in their account. If they continue in similar fashion, expect them to finish in the top half of the table.
Star Performers – Mondjou Keita, Arata Izumi, Subrata Pal
Expected Finishing Position – 8th
Grade – C
Pre-season Prediction – 3rd
Mid-season Standing – 2nd
Karim Bencharifa’s side has been no less than a revelation this time around. By the end of the first half of the campaign, they managed to stay second at the rear of East Bengal with just 3 points separating the top two teams. Both the teams have registered equal number of wins – 9 out of 13 – but while East Bengal managed to draw the other 4 encounters, Salgaocar had tasted defeats in 3 of those – with the other match against East Bengal ending in a stalemate. They are sure to pose great title challenge for the Red-&-Gold brigade and Karim will try out each and every trick in his bag to outclass his great Kolkata rivals.
Star Performers – Ryuiji Sueoka, Luciano Sabrosa, Gilbert Olivera, Francis Fernandes
Expected Finishing Position – 2nd
Grade – A
I-League 2009/10 Performance – 10th
Pre-season Prediction – 14th
Mid-season Standing – 13th
It will be a miracle if Viva Kerala manages to stay afloat in the I-League by the end of the season. They are now placed on the penultimate slot, just above fellow strugglers in ONGC FC, with meager 8 points in their kitty. They have registered only a single win in the first part of the season – which has been their giant-killing display against the Mariners at Kannur. Indian international NP Pradeep’s signing would provide them with the creative force which they were lacking in this season, after MP Zakeer departed for Churchill. It will be a big loss for Indian football in general if the sole representative from the soccer crazy state of Kerala if Viva gets relegated, but chances of their survival looks very bleak.
Star Performers – CS Sabeeth, Anil Kumar, Bello Rasaq
Expected Finishing Position – 14th
Grade – E