SALGAOCAR SC

v

DEMPO SC

PJN Stadium, Margao, Goa

23rd April, 4:15 PM IST

In arguably the biggest game of the week, Salgaocar take on Dempo in a fierce Goan derby on Saturday with the winner likely to be in pole position to clinch the title. Salgaocar are currently at the top and are 5 points ahead of Dempo and East Bengal. A win for Salgaocar could eliminate Dempo from the title race just as they eliminated Churchill last week. Salgaocar’s only injury worry could be Govin Singh who was knocked down unconscious in the game against Churchill. But Syed Farid can more than make up for his absence. Dempo have been dealt a blow in defense with their goal scoring centre-back from the previous game Rouhollah Semeieinia suspended. His place will in all probability be taken by Covan Lawrence and he will partner Mahesh Gawli in the heart of the Dempo defense. Godwin Franco will partner Climax Lawrence in the centre of midfield, though Armando Colaco has the option of playing Ogba Kalu. This is a make or break game for both teams more so for Dempo as a loss could virtually eliminate them from title contention. After Saturday, Dempo have games against East Bengal away, HAL at home, Mumbai FC away, Pune FC away and Air India at home while Salgoacar have games against East Bengal at home, Mumbai FC at home, Indian Arrows away, Mohun Bagan away and JCT away. On paper Salgaocar do look to have the tougher run in which makes it imperative for them not to lose to Dempo on Saturday whilst making it necessary for Dempo to win to give them a serious shot at the title. The stage is set for a cracker of a derby. This is probably the biggest match of the season considering the situation both teams are in. Dempo were absolutely routed in the previous game and for the sake of their Blue Army one hopes they put up a much better performance.

TheHardTackle’s Players To Watch Out For:

Beto (Dempo SC), Yakubu (Salgaocar SC)

TheHardTackle’s Prediction:

Salgaocar SC 1-2 Dempo SC

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KINGFISHER EAST BENGAL

v

VIVA KERALA

Yuvabharati Kirarangan, Kolkata

22nd April, 5:00 PM IST

After a disappointing loss to Pune FC, East Bengal take on Viva Kerala knowing that another slip up could mean the end of the road for them as far as the title is concerned. The Red-and-Gold’s take on a rejuvenated Viva Kerala side who have won two of their last three games and are making a serious charge up the ladder. Add to that the Bengali’s will be without their two talismen – Mehtab Hossain and Tolgay Ozbay- who are suspended for this clash. To make matters worse, Gurwinder and Vashum were stretchered out in the match against Pune FC and it is still not clear whether they will play the game at the Salt Lake. Harmanjhot Khabra should be Mehtab’s likely replacement while Robin and Sanju Pradhan could start up front for East Bengal. This is a must win game for East Bengal, specially as they play the top three sides in the next 20 days or so. East Bengal entertains Dempo at home and then travel to Goa to face Salgaocar and Churchill Brothers. A loss here coupled with a Salgaocar win could be curtains for Trevor Morgans side and he will not want to lose the title in front of his home crowd. A win for P.N. Kunnhikrishnan’s side could take them up to 8th in the table and make them serious contenders for a top half finish.  A loss wouldn’t be a disaster for them either as they are not in serious trouble. Anil Kumar will once again holds all the aces and will look to N.P. Pradeep to provide him the telling passes. Charles Dzisah and Bello Rasaq will marshal the Viva defense that will be relieved to find Tolgay missing on the pitch.

TheHardTackle’s Players To Watch Out For:

Penn Orji (East Bengal), Anil Kumar (Viva Kerala)

TheHardTackle’s Prediction:

East Bengal 2-1 Viva Kerala

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AIR INDIA

v

CHURCHILL BROTHERS

Sahu Maharaj Stadium, Kolhapur

23rd April, 4:00 PM IST

One wouldn’t bet against Air India pulling out another rabbit from the relegation hat. Season after season they find themselves in a similar predicament and each time they manage to pull off a Houdini Act. After two consecutive wins against Salgaocar and HAL, The Airmen take on the might of Churchill Brothers at Kolhapur. Napolean Singh and Abhijit Ghosh have been outstanding for them in the past month and once again much will depend on them to stop Odafa and company from scoring. Okorogor Praise had a good outing against HAL and will once again be the key man for Air India. For them it will be a fight to the finish as they have tough games ahead against Mohun Bagan, and Dempo on the final day of the season. But Subhash Kashyap will be telling his players to take it one game at a time. Air India have certainly been in this position before and have the experience of staving off relegation from the depths. Darren Caldeira is suspended for this clash but Allan Dias will be a more than able replacement.

Churchill Brothers are still recovering from their disappointing loss to Salgaocar in last game. With virtually nothing left to play for, it could be hard for Mamic Drago to keep motivating his players. Odafa looks a far cry from the person who set the beginning of the I-League on fire. Injuries have taken a toll on him while Churchill’s star signings – Steven Dias and Mohammad Rafi – are no where on the scene. A top three finish is the best Churchill can hope for after another disappointing season for them.  They need to win big in order to give their fans something to cheer.

TheHardTackle’s Players To Watch Out For:

Odafa Okolie (Churchill Brothers), Okorogor Praise (Air India)

TheHardTackle’s Prediction:

Air India 1-3 Churchill Brothers

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HAL SC

v

PUNE FC

Sree Kantheveera Stadium, Bangalore

24th April. 4:00 PM IST

After the commencement of Round 22 in the I-league, the Bangalore side find themselves dangerously slotted at tenth position, oscillating just above the drop zone. J Murali’s side has not been able to capitalize on a splendid start to the season. The last round compiled more misery for the Bengaluru side as they faced their fourth loss from last five outings in the league, eventually sucking them into the relegation battle. The Green Shirts are stranded on 20 points since Round 19, when they drew and earned a point. Round 23 sees HAL SC welcome Pune FC at Sri Kantheveera Stadium. Mr. Dependable R.C Prakash scored a consolation goal for the HAL in their previous round loss. Coach and players would be hoping to forget the insipid performance and would be looking to put in a better performance in this home match, as danger of getting dropped this season looms large on them. Abdul Hamza would be the key man for the Pune FC marksmen, as he will once again look to synch up with RC Prakash in the midfield. Hamza will be missing the suspended Xavier Vijay Kumar up front. Meitei and HAL top scorer Murali will link in the middle of the home turf for HAL. Another bad result in this round could really spell trouble for the Karnataka club, as they could end up on the wrong side of the table, whereas three points could shuffle the table in their favor.

The Red Lizards broke many a hearts in Kolkata as they slotted two goals past hapless Sandip Nandy to earn all three points in the last round, leaving East Bengal five points off the leaders, Salgaocar SC. The miraculous comeback was sponsored by goals from Mandjou Keita in the first half, canceling out the deficit, and then by Venkatesh, to give the Pune side lead. The win saw Derrick Perriera’s side move up the table to seventh place, as the Pune side look to finish off the season in style, after being heavily criticized for underperforming in front of a fabulous support at Balewadi. Pune side makes a trip for their Round 23 encounter to Bangalore, as they face struggling HAL. A win here could see the Pune side jump places and leapfrog Mohun Bagan and Mumbai FC, and finish the round in fifth. Mandjou Kieta is expected to start the match, and would be our man to watch out for, as he could add a few more to his tally against out of confidence HAL defenders. Subhash would partner the Guinean upfront, with Izumi just slotted behind them. Lester and Tamba will hold the midfield job, whereas India number one Subrata Pal is expected to start as a custodian in goal.

The corresponding fixture in the first leg finished with HAL stunning the Balewadi Sports complex in January and going home with all three points. J. Amaba scored for the visitors then – his only goal so far in the campaign. Pune FC would be looking to replicate the same at Sri Kantheveera come Sunday.

TheHardTackle’s Players To Watch Out For:

Narender Meetei (HAL SC), Mandjou Keita (Pune FC)

TheHardTackle’s Prediction:

HAL SC 1 – 1 Pune FC

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JCT FC

v

INDIAN ARROWS

Guru Nanak Stadium, Ludhiana

24th April 2011, 4:00 PM IST

The other match on Sunday witnesses a crucial clash between inaugural champions JCT FC and Indian Arrows. The Millmen, without a shadow of a doubt, have had a bad season, currently slotted at the rock bottom of the table. Veteran Sukhwinder Sukhi’s side registered their staggering eleventh loss of the season, against fellow strugglers ONGC FC, in a very crucial game. Amandeep Singh gave JCT the lead in Kolhapur, but it was all in vain as the Millmen conceded two goals, one late in the second half just before the full time whistle. The only positive side for the Ludhiana based club is that they have two matches in hand, with respect to other teams in or near the relegation zone. JCT FC has taken the lead in many recent matches, but hasn’t been able to hold onto it, and have conceded silly goals due to lapse in concentration. Sukhi would be expecting a disciplined performance from his team, as they welcome the surprise package of the season, Indian Arrows, to Guru Nanak Stadium. JCT would look to come back with a win, hoping to echo the performance of their splendid victory over Mumbai FC in round 21. Baljit Singh Sr. is expected to partner Ajay singh in the striking department with Jagpreet and Gurtej on the flanks of the home turf.

Indian Arrows were taught a footballing lesson by the current champions Dempo SC in their last round engagement at PJN Stadium in Fatorda. Dempo players slotted past Jagroop no less than five times, despite of a very good performance by Raju at the back for the under-23 side. Indian Arrows maintained their ninth spot after the round with 23 points garnered out of 21 games so far. Shilton Dsilva and Jeje continued with their fabulous season as they scored for the AIFF sponsored side. Round 23 sees Indian Arrows make a short trip to Punjab to face a ‘desperate for points’ JCT side. It would not be an easy encounter for Desmond Buplin’s lads, as the same fixture finished in a goal-less draw at Gurgaon earlier this year. Coach would be hoping that his young brigade plays normal pacey attacking football, which has been the highlight of their game this season. Jewel, Shilton and Jibon are expected to start with Jeje and Fela upfront in Ludhiana this Sunday. A victory could see the debutants move up to eighth in the table.

TheHardTackle’s Players To Watch Out For:

Jagpreet Singh (JCT FC), Jeje Lalpekhlua (Indian Arrows)

TheHardTackle’s Prediction:

JCT FC 1 – 1 Indian Arrows

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MOHUN BAGAN AC

v

ONGC FC

YuvaBharati Kirarangan, Kolkata

24th April 2011, 5:00 PM IST

The Mariners earned a hard-fought point in the last round derby clash with fellow Kolkata club Chirag United, after being a goal down and then finished the match with only ten men on the field. Mohun Bagan showed great resilience in the match, despite many chances being spurned in front of the goal, and both Chidi and Jayanta hitting the woodwork. Chidi Edeh would be missing the round 23 clash at home against an upbeat ONGC side, after the number 9 was sent off, minutes after setting up Muritala Ali for the equalizing goal. Chidi scored a brace in the corresponding fixture at Sahu Maharaj Stadium in Kolhapur. Subhas Bhowmick could deploy a 4-4-2 against ONGC on Sunday, with Ishfaq Ahmed filling in the vacant striker’s role. Mohun Bagan could also go in with a 4-5-1 with Muritala as lone striker. Mohun Bagan has only won once in their last five games, and would be desperate to notch up a win here at home. With Pune FC, Chirag United and Indian Arrows clotting the mid table, loss of points could see the mariners slip up in the table. Mohun Bagan will also have to play without N. Mohanraj and goalkeeper Shilton Paul who are out due to double booking

ONGC FC seems to be on a roll, as the season comes to a close. The institutional side has won their last two matches, with their captain fantastic Badmus Babatunde leading the way. The Nigerian has slotted an overwhelming six goals in aforementioned games, taking his tally to ten for the season. Opara is set to start with him at YBK on Sunday, with Japanese Katsumi Yusa and Sandip on the flanks.  ONGC FC is currently slotted at thirteenth in the table with eighteen points from 22 matches, and would look to hoard more points in their remaining matches, to give coach Subrata Bhattacharya (Jr)’s side maximum chance to survive this season. ONGC lost the first leg of the fixture at home and would be looking for revenge, where Opara scored a penalty for the hosts.

TheHardTackle’s Players To Watch Out For:

Muritala (Mohun Bagan AC), Badmus Babatunde (ONGC FC)

TheHardTackle’s Prediction:

Mohun Bagan AC 1 – 1 ONGC FC

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MUMBAI FC

v

CHIRAG UNITED SC

Sahu Maaraj Stadium, Kolhapur

25th April 2011, 4:00 PM IST

Mumbai FC lost their last match against a desperate Viva Kerala side to find themselves more distant form the top cream of the table. The difference between fourth placed Dempo SC and the fifth placed Mumbai side is mammoth thirteen points. The Mumbai side has lost its way recently losing three of their last five encounters, last two against struggling sides, away from home. Round 23 will witnesses Khalid Jamil’s side welcome Subrata Bhattacharya’s men clad in purple jerseys. Mumbai FC’s strikers have found it difficult to hit the back of the net recently, with the side not scoring in the last three matches, while conceding at the other end. Mumbai FC are being chased by a bunch of teams now, as they have squandered their lead. Loss of points from here on could see Khalid Jamil’s side switch places in the wrong direction, which would certainly not do justice to the grit and mettle shown by the team under pressure during the initial stages of the season. Ebi Sukore and India international Abhishek Yadav are once again expected to carry the striking weight with Kima and Bungo holding the defense line.

Chirag United took a point off the Mariners in the last round derby after taking the lead initially, and then defending after Bapi Saha was shown his second yellow inside 25 minutes. The Purple Jerseys defended brilliantly in the last match, and with some help form the woodwork, Subrata Bhattacharya’s side secured their tenth draw of the season – maximum for a team in I-league this season. Chettri continued with his excellent form, hitting the back of the net in the previous round as well, after converting a spot kick under pressure. Chettri would be our man to watch out for, as he has scored in his last three outings for Chirag. Lalkamal was at his best in the derby, knitting many moves, and would be expecting to do the same at Sahu Maharaj this Monday. Brazilian Josimar along with South Korean Choi will be missing through suspensions. Chika Wali would be handling the middle of defense once again.

TheHardTackle’s Players To Watch Out For:

Ebi Sukore (Mumbai FC), Sunil Chettri (Chirag United SC)

TheHardTackle’s Prediction:

Mumbai FC 1 – 2 Chirag United SC

– Jonathan De Sousa and Kunwar Deep Singh