The 115th IFA Shield is heading towards a repeat of last year’s final, as both Churchill Brothers and Mohun Bagan could meet to decide the winner of the coveted crown, should they overcome their semi final opponents. First up for Churchill, though, is a determined Shillong Lajong side; and Mohun Bagan will have to overcome their local rivals Southern Samity, who have been the surprise package of the tournament so far having made it to the last four.
Semi Final 1: Churchill Brothers v Shillong Lajong
Kick-off: 28th March, 3:00 PM
Shillong Lajong progressed to the semi finals after beating Pune FC in their final group game 2-1. They began their campaign with a 1-1 draw against Techno Aryan. But they seemed to peak at the right time, holding the mighty Mohun Bagan to a 1-1 draw and then coming from behind to register a 2-1 win over Chirag United, culminating with the crucial win over Pune FC. Former Bagan and Churchill Brothers player Genius Zenith has been their star performer so far, scoring vital goals and distributing passes from the midfield. He will once again pull the strings in the midfield and determine to a large extent whether Lajong can progress to the finals; there is no doubt that he will be itching to dish out a good performance against his former club. Racy Singh has been doing the bulk of the scoring so far, and will once again hold the key to unlock the Churchill defence. Lalrindika and Z. Ralte will have to be on their guard at the back to stop the marauding Churchill strike pair of Kayne Vincent and Henry Karpeh. One thing that would definitely go against them is their lack of experience, and the aging Gumphe Rime in goal will have plenty of work on his hands.
However don’t count out the young and energetic Shillong Lajong side. In fact, Churchill needs no reminding about that famous semi final defeat at the hands of Shillong Lajong in the semi finals of the 2009 Federation Cup. On paper, Churchill look a much stronger side even without the likes of Odafa and Steven Dias; the absence of these star players has given the likes of Bineesh Balan and Lenny Rodrigues a chance to rise up to the occasion. Bineesh in particular has been in sublime form, scoring two goals so far and creating plenty of chances for his strikers; his lightning pace has made defenders look amateurs. Lenny Rodrigues has been their anchor man in midfield, and he is maturing with every game that he plays. Churchill’s road to the final has been pretty decent. Apart from the loss against Chinese side Shandong Lueng, they took maximum points from their other three games, beating the likes of Southern Samity, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting. Churchill have an embarrassment of riches to choose from for their line-up. They will mostly go with the pair of Vincent and Karpeh up front. They have plenty of options in midfield with Israil, Brazilian Amaury, Bineesh, Lenny being their most likely starters. Ravanan, Robert, Hardeep and Rowilson could form the back four, with Vinay guarding the goal for them.
In a knockout game like this, any team could win depending on their performance in the 90 minutes. Shillong Lajong could take the game to Churchill Brothers with their pace and energy. If they win, it will give them a massive boost ahead of their quest to qualify for the I-League. However Churchill will not want to ruin their chance of playing in their second successive final. The defending champions will do all it takes to retain their crown.
Semi Final 2 : Mohun Bagan v Southern Samity
Kick-off – 28th March, 6:15 PM
Southern Samity has been the shock of the tournament so far. In a group that had the defending Champions, 29 time IFA Shield winners, a Chinese side and Mohammedan Sporting, no one really gave them a chance. But they played like seasoned campaigners, dislodging the likes of East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting, not to forget their stunning 1-0 win over Shandong Lueng to make it to the semi finals.
First up they beat East Bengal with a brace from Edmilson Marques. Then they scored a sensational 1-0 win over Shandong Lueng, with defender Swoumi coming up with a Man of The Match performance and the goal to give his side a famous win. Although they lost to Churchill in their next game, there was no denying them a deserved place in the semi finals. Edmilson Marques has been their most impressive performer so far, sharing the bulk of the scoring responsibility. However the performance of the back four would have pleased coach Carlos Roberto Pereira Da Silva the most; Gurpreet, Rajib Ghosh, PT Swoumi and Madhab Das have been outstanding in all of the games so far for them. Francis Xavier has linked up well with Edmilson in the midfield, and delivered a Man of the Match performance against East Bengal. Carlos will in all probability start with the same line up that has done exceedingly well for him in the group stages.
Bagan, on the other hand, will look to salvage their disastrous season. This is their only chance of silverware this season following a calamitous I-League campaign and playing second fiddle to East Bengal at the Federation Cup and The Calcutta League. They are unbeaten in the tournament so far, dropping only two points en route to the semi finals after their 1-1 draw against Shillong Lajong. Ashim Biswas is reveling in the rare starts that he has been handed, scoring goals and creating plenty of chances for Chidi. Once again, he along with Chidi will run the wheel of fortune for The Mariners. One can gauge the seriousness with which Subhash Bhowmick has approached the IFA Shield, having fielded most of his I-League regulars. Surkumar Singh and Dipak Mondal have been regulars in all the games so far. Biswajit Bhattacharya and Kingshuk Debnath have assisted in defence. Barreto too has been fielded very often, with Ishfaq being a regular in the line up. Coach Bhowmick is no doubt gunning for the title, and possibly a clash with Churchill Brothers is on his mind. But Southern Samity are certainly no pushovers, and will look to spoil the party for the Mariners. However, all of Bengal and Goa will be hoping for another Churchill- Bagan clash in the final. If this materializes, revenge and redemption will definitely be on coach Bhowmicks mind.