HAL SC

v

EAST BENGAL

Bangalore Football Stadium
28th May, 4:30 PM IST

***

This game is make or break for both teams. A loss for either of the teams would mean disaster. East Bengal have seen their title aspirations crumble in the space of 4 days in Goa. They looked on course to winning the title at half time against Salgaocar but suffered a shock defeat with the Goa Greens scoring two goals in the last eleven minutes. Against Churchill they produced an insipid performance to blow away their title chances. Their fate now hangs entirely in the hands of three other teams. They must win their last two games and hope that the three Goan teams Dempo, Churchill and Salgaocar slip up.

They missed Mehtab Hossain in their previous game against Churchill and would welcome him back. Harmanjot Khabra also is back after suspension which will lend solidity to midfield. After their crucial win against Dempo they were favourites for the league before mayhem at Goa probably cost them this year’s title. They need to get Tolgay more involved in the game. He had an off day against Churchill partly because he was not getting the supply form midfield in the absence of Mehtab. Their wings also looked anonymous in Goa and they need to create more chances on the flanks and put in more crosses to the strikers.

HAL have the worst home record in the League and don’t look like upsetting the applecart in their final home game of the season. They got arguably the toughest two remaining fixtures against the Red and Golds at home and Dempo away. Even a win in their final two games may not be enough to avoid the drop. A loss here however would mean relegation for sure. Things have gone horribly wrong for HAL in the last two months. They were at one time in the top half of the table but lost momentum in the second half of the campaign. They have not won in seven games and their last win came way back in February. Their players like Xavier Vijay Kumar, Murali J and foreigners like Bengkok must have already got offers from other clubs. If HAL don’t survive the drop it remains to be seen if they continue with the club especially since they have not yet fulfilled the club licensing criteria.

Thehardtackle’s players to watch out for:

Tolgay Ozbay (East Bengal),
Xavier Vijay Kumar (HAL)

Thehardtackle’s prediction:

HAL 0-3 East Bengal

CHIRAG UNITED

V

VIVA KERALA

Yuvabharati Krirangan, Kolkata
29th May, 2011 – 5:00 PM IST

***

The draw specialists against the team that needs a draw to survive. It’s hard to see this game going any other way than a dull draw. Chirag have an astonishing 13 draws to their credit so far-that means an entire leg with draws. They are at 8th in the table and at best can move up to 5th -that is if other results go their way. It has been a stop start season for Chirag. They never really got into a consistent run of form thanks to their bagful of draws. Lack of goals has also been their problem. Only 29 goals from 24 games is not good enough for a team that has Sunil Chetri, Joshimar and Junior in their ranks. Though their defence has played fine, their midfield could have done with a bit more creativity. It has almost been three weeks since they last played and it remains to be seen how quickly they get into their stride. There are no injury worries or suspensions for them. Coach Subrata Bhattacharya will definitely start with Chetri and Joshimar upfront. Denson Devdas and Lalkamal Bhowmick will provide the thrust from midfield, while Chika Wali will be the key at the back to hold fort against the likes of Anil Kumar of Viva Kerala  – a team which have had yet another torrid season.

Despite having the likes of Anil Kumar – highest Indian scorer and Karma T in their ranks they have had a miserable season. After signing India international N.P. Pradeep from the Indian team things were looking bright for them. They certainly had the firepower to finish in the top 6 but inconsistent displays have left them fighting for relegation. They are still technically a point away from safety but their vastly superior goal difference means even if they lose against Chirag they will probably still be safe. However there’s no denying the fact that they should have been much higher up the table especially after they were financially bailed out and received the much needed cash injection from Musli Power. Once again Anil Kumar-who is being courted by several clubs already- will hold the key to their fortunes. Karma T- another revelation this season will look to provide the passes while Pradeep will hold fort in midfield. Charles Dzisah and Bello Rasaq will man the central defence.

Thehardtackle’s Players to watch out for:

Lalkamal Bhowmick (Chirag United)

Anil Kumar (Viva Kerala),

Thehardtackle’s prediction:

Chirag United 1-1 Viva Kerala

INDIAN ARROWS

V

MOHUN BAGAN

Tau Devi Lal Stadium, Gurgaon
29th May, 2011 – 4:00 PM IST

***

One team that has had a fall from grace and another that will probably fall into the abyss. That’s the story of Mohun Bagan and Indian Arrows this season. After the Executive Committee meeting last week, the AIFF decided to intensify their search for a sponsor for the Indian Arrows failing which they will have an Emergency meeting to decide the future of India’s fledgling team. This was another ill conceived plan of the AIFF and was bound to reach this stage. But to give credit to them they have performed beyond expectations and that they have a chance of finishing above the relegation zone will itself silence its critics. Players like Jeje Lalpekhlua and Raju Gaekwad have been the finds of the season and this was possible only because they were given chances to perform- something that may not have been possible if they were playing for bigger clubs. But what the future holds for this team is a big question mark.

They will however look to give their best in what could be the final game for the Indian Arrows. They will not be short of motivation and a chance to finish above the relegation zone will itself spur them on. However a loss for them coupled with a win for JCT and Air India could spell disaster for ONGC as the Oilmen would be relegated even if they finish above Indian Arrows.  Desmond Bulpin will be hoping for one last hurrah from his young turks. At home they are more than a handful and will certainly go all out for a win.

Forgettable – one word that describes Mohun Bagan’s season. It started with the sacking of Stanley Rosario and even after the arrival of Subhash Bhowmick things didn’t change. Though they are a creditable 5th in the table, the gulf between them and the rest of the top four teams is a massive 16 points. Everything has gone wrong for them this season. Barreto has missed almost half of their games, their defence has leaked vital goals and their midfield has looked disorganized. Plenty for Bhowmick to ponder on during the off season. They need a couple of strong signings to win back the confidence of their fans. They will be hoping to get this last game done and dusted and look to next season. Edeh Chidi has been their player of the season and will once again be called upon to get them the goals. Muritala Ali will partner him upfront and it remains to be seen if Barreto does start or get a chance to play later in the game.

Thehardtackle’s players to watch out for:

Jeje Lalpekhlua (Indian Arrows),

Edeh Chidi (Mohun Bagan)

Thehardtackle’s prediction:

Indian Arrows 1-1 Mohun Bagan

ONGC FC

V

MUMBAI FC

Sahu Maharaj Stadium, Kohlapur
30th May, 2011 – 4:30 PM IST

***

The two teams from Mumbai face off against each other in their final game of the season. For ONGC though this is a battle for survival. They need a win at all cost to give themselves a good enough chance to avoid relegation. However a draw would mean they would have to depend on Air India for their survival. In all likelihood it will be one team from Mumbai that will be relegated to the second division. ONGC have already lost N.D. Opara to Churchill Brothers and it remains to be seen if he is fielded against Mumbai. He has been their main goal scorer this season and along with Babatunde will hold the key to their fortunes. Jatin Singh Bisht will have to provide the passes from midfield. The equation is simple for them. Win against Mumbai and hope that Air India or JCT don’t win their final games. Considering JCT and Air India have to play Salgaocar and Dempo that wouldn’t be a big ask. However the crucial thing for them is that they have to win which is vital.

Mumbai F have had another decent season. Khalid Jamil has done well with the limited resources that he has been offered. A win will take them to 5th place assuming Mohun Bagan fail to beat Arrows. Nevertheless it will be a satisfying season for Khalid Jamil. A few additions to their already decent squad will make thenm a force to reckon with next season. The rediscovery of Nicholas Rodrigues has been a major factor in their success this season. They will certainly look to end the season on a high

Thehardtackles’ players to watch out for:

Babatunde (ONGC)

Ebi Sukore (Mumbai FC),

Thehardtackle’s prediction:

ONGC 2-1 Mumbai FC

DEMPO SC

V

AIR INDIA

PJN Stadium, Margao, Goa
30th May, 2011 – 4:30 PM IST

***

After the heartbreaking loss against Pune FC in their last match, Dempo’s mantra now is “to win at all costs” – something that Dempo has to do in their remaining couple of games and hope that Salgaocar drops all three points in their final game. Dempo will look for revenge after being thrashed by Air India 0-4 in the previous leg. Dempo have come back remarkably well after a disappointing start to the season and they were in the reckoning for the title until the 3-2 loss they suffered to Pune FC at Balewadi. But East Bengal’s back to back defeats have meant that they still have a chance if JCT pulls off a surprise by dumping table topper Salgaocar in their last game of the season. There are no injury worries or suspension worries for Armando Colaco but the loss of his best player Beto to Churchill Brothers will be a big blow. However being the professional that he is Beto will definitely give his best to Dempo in these remaining games.

Santosh Kashyap knows what he has to do. Beat Dempo in their own backyard to be sure of playing another season of top flight football. Air India has risen for the dead in their final few games after almost losing hope. They are unbeaten for more than a month now and have even beaten Salgaocar at Fatorda along the way. It is certainly not impossible for them and they have the added advantage of being well rested contrary to Dempo who have been on the move thanks to the AFC Cup commitments. Everything rests on this game for Subhash Kashyap and once again Manjit Singh will be the key to their chances. Tactical formations will not hold much in this game. Kashyap will have to tell his boys to play for their lives.

Thehardtackle’s players to watch out for:

Ranti Martins (Dempo),

Manjit Singh (Air India)

Thehardtackle’s prediction:

Dempo 3-1 Air India

JCT FC

V

SALGAOCAR

Guru Nanak dev Stadium, Ludhiana
30th May, 2011 – 4:00 PM IST

***

This game will be the title and the relegation decider. What a season it has been for Salgaocar! After 12 long years they are a match away from winning the title again. Ryuji Sueoka and Yusif Yakubu have made all the difference for them. After a brilliant start to the season they stuttered allowing their rivals to claw back but the brilliant victory against Salgaocar has put them 3 points from a second league crown. Technically speaking Churchill, Dempo and East Bengal can still catch up with them on points if JCT notch up a surprise win, but Salgaocar’s superior goal difference of +29 compared to +27 of Churchill, +22 of East Bengal and+18 of Dempo means that barring something drastic, Salgaocar will be crowned champions even if they lose at Ludhiana.

JCT are in all sorts of trouble. They need a win desperately and two of their main stays have been dropped from the squad after signing deals with Salgaocar for next season. Rahul Kumar, their defender will not play this game after admitting to JCT officials that he has signed for the Goan Champions in waiting. The equation is simple for Sukhwinder Singh- A win will guarantee them safety while a loss or draw would mean they will have to wait for the other results. Lack of goals has been the Millmen’s problem. At 17 goals scored this season they have the second worst scoring record after HAL. Captain Omoloja Karim has been their lone bright spark in an otherwise disappointing season for the inaugural NFL winners. They will miss Rahul Kumar in defence especially as they will be up against the likes of Yakubu and Ryuji who have been in marauding form this season. Their only consolation is the fact that they are playing at Ludhiana which is a fortress for them. Also Salgaocar have been known to slip up against the weaker teams. However Karim knows that his team is just 90 minutes from victory and if they don’t win the title from here it will be absolute heartbreak for Salgaocar.

Thehardtackle’s players to watch out for:

Yusif Yakubu (Salgaocar), Omolaja Karim (JCT)

Thehardtackle’s prediction:

JCT 1-2 Salgaocar

CHURCHILL BROTHERS

V

PUNE FC

PJN Stadium, Margao, Goa
31st May, 2011 – 4:30 PM IST

***

This has been another season where Churchill has promised so much but delivered so little. They had a decent team, made stunning coups by capturing several Indian players, but in the end fell short. They can still win the title if something miraculous takes place but that looks highly unlikely. A second placed finish is possible and that would be a fairly decent result. They have already made some big moves in the transfer market landing Beto and Okpara. A win in their last game will almost guarantee them a top 3 finish which will be a decent performance. Once again Odafa will be the man to watch along with the fast improving Bineesh Balan who had a brilliant game against East Bengal and troubled the Red and Gold defense with his pacy runs. Kane Vincent will start with Odafa who is once again in the transfer gossip after being linked to Mohun Bagan. Will this be his last game for Churchill?

After a brilliant debut season, there were a lot of expectations from Pune FC. But they lost key players in the transfer market and things didn’t go as per last year’s script for them. However they still have a chance of finishing fifth which will be a decent showing for Derrick Pereira’s men. Keita has got them the goals but Edmar was a big let down for them. Arata too couldn’t break into the first team consistently due to the foreigners rule. That cost them dearly in the end and probably cost them a third or fourth place finish. They have had a good away record this season and are known to play wel particularly in Goa. They won here against Salgaocar and also gave Dempo a scare losing to a 85th minute penalty. They will give it their all hoping for a top 5 finish.

Thehardtackle’s players to watch out for:

Bineesh Balan (Churchill),

Lester Fernandes (Pune FC)

Thehardtackle’s prediction

Churchill 1-1 Pune FC