The I-League Division Two had everything – heartbreaks, do-or-die battles, a virtual knockout battle for one team, a team that started so well but then faded away, a team put together by one of India’s greatest players but fell narrowly short and finally a team that dominated from start to finish, topped the league but may still get disqualified due to charges of fielding an ineligible player. What a pulsating second division it was – great for the neutrals, excitement galore and even after the tournament has ended the suspense over who actually has made it still lingers.
So here’s a review of one of the best second division Leagues in recent memory.
This team promised so much but delivered so little. They were on a high after reaching the IFA Shield Semi’s but the weight of expectations of qualifying for the I-League probably got to them. They had a decent team with ex-Dempo stopper back Bolaji Majek, lending solidity to the defense. Veteran Madhab Das and Francis Xavier were more than a handful in midfield and attack, but yet their team couldn’t pack a punch and wilted away. They started their campaign on a disastrous note, suffering a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Shillong Lajong followed by a 0-1 defeat to local rivals Mohammedan Sporting. They then held mighty Sporting Clube de Goa and just when it seemed their campaign could come back on track they suffered a drubbing against local rivals Royal Wahingdoh to all but end their chances of promotion. They then played spoilers to Vasco Sports Club, beating them 2-1 but by then they were already playing for pride. They finished bottom of the pool and will have to improve considerably if they are to make any progress in future. Edmilson, despite scoring two goals, was a big let down for them. Much depended on him if they were to progress but he probably didn’t get enough chances to score goals and his midfield probably let him down. Francis Xavier also promised a lot but the occasion possibly got to him. A good back four together with a nice striker could probably do the trick for them in the coming season.
Goals scored: 4
Goals conceded: 16
Christopher forgot his scoring boots in Kolkata
For the second successive season, the Black Panthers have let their die hard fans down. In an eight team league, finishing 7th is disasterous for the Calcutta side. The fact that Bengal’s two teams finished second last and last in itself was a shock. They started with a loss to Vasco, then breathed life into their campaign at the expense of their fellow Bengali’s but then lost the plot completely, losing three games on the trot to kill off any hopes of progressing through. Christopher had a disastrous tournament, scoring a lone goal for them. Suraj Mondal scored two in a single game against Royal Wahingdoh to snatch a point but that was it. They scored only four goals in the entire campaign which goes to show what a disastrous one it was. Though their defence played fairly well and conceded only 9 goals, their lack of scoring was always going to be an issue. For a club as big as Mohammedan Sporting, not going through to the I-League will be a big setback to the fans as well as the management. Something needs to be done quickly to bring them back to India’s football elite or else we could see a possible end of an era in Indian football.
Goals scored: 4
Goals conceded: 9
Carlton Chapman’s side were certainly a confident bunch going into the final phase of qualifying after beating the likes of Vasco to top the group in the first phase. But the long journey from Madurai in Tamil Nadu to Shillong and the fact that they played so many games in a short span of time probably cost them a place in the I-League. They had a decent team and were the reigning Shillong League champions, having beaten the likes of Shillong Lajong and Ar Hima in the league. They are also arguably the most supported club in Shillong and were playing in front of their adorable home fans. But having a small squad finally took its toll on them. Their players were carrying a few injuries after a grueling first round in the severe heat of Madurai and fatigue also might have crept in. Add to that, they could not field a single foreigner owing to registration formalities that were not completed. Considering these factors they probably did well to finish 6th and can certainly look to a bright future. Their defense also let them down conceding 13 goals. Bijendra Rai was their standout performer, scoring four goals in the tournament. Young Malasawtluanga also had a great tournament for them. Their loss to their local rivals Shillong Lajong and Ar Hima hurt them the most. They showed what they were capable off when they thumped Southern Samity 6-1. They then lost to Vasco after beating them in the group stage. However, the experience of playing in such a tough tournament will do them more good than harm and with a few foreign additions, together with their already talented youngsters, they could make a decent claim to an I league spot next season. Having the likes of Carlton Chapman at the helm of affairs will certainly help them. They can only improve from here.
Gals scored: 12
Goals concede: 13
Baichung’s dream will have to wait for one more season to come true
Sikkim United was born out of a dream of India’s greatest ever footballers – Bhaichung Bhutia. He was ready to do anything for them to get them through. He even played at centre back for them due to their defensive woes but in the end they fell short. However, the state of Sikkim can take pride that a team for the future and a team that will certainly make it big one day was born. They held the mighty Sporting Clube de Goa and Shillong Lajong but it was their games against less fancied opponents that probably led to their downfall, Drawing against the likes of Royal Wahingdoh and Ar Hima did them in. Four draws were a bit too much and their two creditable wins against the Bengali teams wasn’t enough. They suffered a lone loss in their final game against Vasco but they can take pride in the fact that they have built a strong structure and will probably be up there among the contenders for qualification next season. Their foreigners were brilliant for them throughout the tournament. Liberain John Meyonga, who has played over 30 international games for Liberia, was a great signing by Bahichung Bhutia and scored 4 goals for them. India internationals N.S Manju and Renedy Singh also chipped in with the goals. Bhaichung played most of the games at centre back and did a brilliant job for them in defense. But in the end it wasn’t enough for Stanley Rosario’s boys. Bhutia was clearly upset with the AIFF about the Tuboi episode and felt that his team should have been given three points in their game against Lajong. Even if that had happened, it may not have been enough to see his side through. It remains to be seen whether players like Renedy Singh, Manju, Beikhokei and their foreigners continue playing for the club in the coming seasons. For Bhaichung’s dream to be fulfilled, he knows that he has to bring the club to the I-League. However, for the start that he has made and the effort that he has put in, he deserves a big pat on the back.
Goals scored: 9
Goals conceded: 9
To be continued in Part Two..