The I-League resumes after a brief international break which saw the Indian National Football team take on Singapore. Round 2 of the I-League ended with Pune FC, Dempo, Pailan Arrows and Prayag United leading the table with six points while Mohun Bagan, Air-India and Mumbai FC are at the bottom with zero points
Round 3 is likely to witness intense action with the marquee match of the round being the clash between dark horses Pune FC and Federation Cup Winners East-Bengal . TheHardTackle takes a look at all the 7 matches of Round 3 to be played on the 26th, 27th, 28th and 29th of October.
ONGC vs Prayag United SC
26th October, Ambedkar Stadium, New Delhi
ONGC play their first home match after getting thrashed by Churchill Brothers 5-0 in their last match. ONGC had started off well against Pune FC but the thrashing at the hand of Churchill must have dented their morale. Japan’s Katsumi Yusa has been the only player who has done well for the oilmen and is our man to watch out for this time as well. Striker Oneyama Eke after sitting out against Churchill will look to start in this match and have an impact. Kamal Thapa lead ONGC defense will look to put in a better performance at the back after letting in 8 goals in the opening two matches. The match will be played at the Ambedkar Stadium in Delhi.
Prayag United after a disastrous Federation Cup are looking a completely different side in the I-League. 10 men Prayag scored 5 goals past Air-India and then beat Mohun Bagan 2-1 in the second round. Subrata Paul is the sure-shot starter between the sticks, while the defense looks solid with the presence of Gouramangi Singh, Deepak Mondal and Bello Rasaq. The midfield comprises of C.K. Vineeth on the right flank and he would be accompanied by K. Asif and Tulunga in a 3 man midfield. Carlos Hernandez is likely to play as the roaming striker linking up the midfield and the two strikers up-front which are likely to Ranty Martins and Mohammed Rafique. It is expected to be an easy outing for Prayag and they would be looking to take all 3 points on offer
Players To Watch Out For: Katsumi Yusa(ONGC), Ranty Martins(Prayag United SC)
Prediction: ONGC 0 – 2 Prayag United
Churchill Brothers SC vs Mumbai FC
27th October, Fatorda Stadium, Margao
Having narrowly lost the Goan derby to Dempo on the first day of the season, Churchill Brothers bounced back strongly and annihilated the newly promoted ONGC outfit by five goals to nil in round two of the league. A dominating performance against ONGC will give the Goan side some much needed confidence ahead of their fixture against Mumbai FC. Lebanese forward Akram Moghrabi seems to be in a red hot form especially after scoring a hat-trick against ONGC and will be the go-to man for the Salcette-based club. The midfield of Steven Dias, Tomba Singh, Lenny Rodrigues and Bikramjit seems to be gelling well for the Goans. Mariano Dias’ men managed to keep Dempo under pressure for the majority of the match and would consider themselves hard done by with the final scoreline. Churchill Brothers look solid at the back and stamped their authority over ONGC. They are sure to bag three points if they manage to play with the same momentum against Mumbai FC.
Khalid Jamil’s men have not had a very auspicious beginning to their I-league campaign in 2012-13. The club from Mumbai has slumped to two defeats in two matches by the same margin of three goals to two (against Pailan Arrows and Pune FC respectively) and is languishing in the bottom half of the table. Although they are yet to score a point this season the club has not looked half as bad as their 11th position on the table suggests. They must be ruing the fact that they let the lead slip away from their grasp in both the matches which they have played so far. Surprisingly in both their matches Mumbai has ended up conceding first, then managed to crawl their way back to the top but agonizingly on both these occasions they handed back the advantage to their opponents. Mumbai FC certainly has their task cut out against a menacing Churchill Brothers outfit and if they have get their first points on board than their Nigerian striker- ND Opara will have to play a very important part in the match.
Players To Watch Out For: Akram Moghrabi (Churchill Brothers), ND Opara (Mumbai FC)
Prediction: Churchill Brothers 2-0 Mumbai FC
United Sikkim FC vs Dempo SC
28th October, Paljor Stadium, Gangtok
United Sikkim earned a promotion into the first tier of Indian football earlier this year. Many predict United Sikkim to go back down to the second division at the end of the season but the young side from Sikkim has showcased in the first two matches that they will be no pushovers. Playing their first match at home against Salgaocar, the ‘Snow Lions’ stunned Karim Bencherifa’s men as they went on to script an amazing performance by picking up three points despite going down twice in the space of eight minutes. With the home crowd firmly behind them, United Sikkim has showed a lot of character against far superior sides in Salgaocar SC and East Bengal respectively. I-league draw is certainly not in the favor of the newbies as they are set to play host to the defending champions Dempo SC in the third match of the season. Dempo will go all out against them and their goalkeeper Yoon Tae could prove to the most important player for the hosts.
It has been business as usual for the defending champions as they sit at the top of the pile with six points from two matches. This will be Dempo’s first match outside Goa after having played Churchill and Sporting in the first two rounds. Player to player Dempo is a far superior side than United Sikkim. With the likes of Miranda, Sueoka and Pereira present in their midfield expect Dempo to dominate the proceedings from start to finish. Dempo’s defense might not get to see much of the ball but they will have to be on their toes as the home side is known to rely primarily on a counter attaching style of play. United Sikkim has managed to earn a lot of respect against the mighty Salgaocar and East Bengal but playing against Dempo SC is an altogether different ball game. Dempo should not face much trouble in securing three points from this away trip of theirs.
Players To Watch Out For: Yoon Tae (United Sikkim), Ryugi Sueoka (Dempo SC)
Prediction:United Sikkim 0-3 Dempo SC
Salgaocar FC vs Pailan Arrows
28th October, Fatorda Stadium, Margao
Salgaocar SC welcomes the Indian youngsters to Goa with some uncertainty surrounding the team. Head Coach Karim Bencharifa has put his resignation papers on table to take over the reigns of Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan and currently he is serving the notice period. Things are not looking bright on the field either, after the opening day shock loss to newly promoted United Sikkim FC they could only register a draw against the other north eastern outfit Shillong Lajong FC. Salgaocar has squandered leads in both the matches and it is something which the team needs to address immediately. Filipino striker Angel Guirado has found his feet quickly in the I-league, with two goals under his belt already, he will be aiming for more when he comes up against the inexperienced Arrows defenders. He will be relying on the supply provided by Francis Fernandez, Quinton Jacobs and Rocus Lamare. Francis has established himself as a regular in the Indian set up under Wim Koevermans and will be looking to utilize the opportunity to get the better of his biggest challengers in the Arrows side. Karanjit Singh needs to step up his performance under the bar if he dreams of making the Indian no.1 spot his own from the clutches of Subrata Pal. Captain Luciano Sabrosa needs to be at his best, marshaling and controlling the defence if the Goan side has to come out unscathed against a flexible Arrows side.
Pailan Arrows has brought that breath of fresh air that was much needed for Indian football fans. With two wins out of two, the young Indian Turks are not only playing the brilliant possession based ‘pass and move’ football but also earning the results which is much crucial in the longer run. The team has shown the character and skill to come unscathed so far. Arthur Papas’ team has shown flexibility and maturity beyond years and this project is now yielding the results which can put the foundation stone for the future. Skipper Milan Singh has taken the mantle and has risen to the occasion with ease. He is the one who is pulling the strings and has stepped up to coolly convert penalties in both the matches to finds his team sharing spoils at the top of the table. While the Arrows are sharing the joint top position their young striker Holicharan Narzary has notched up 3 goals under his name in the race for the golden boot and will be expecting to add more to his tally in the upcoming game. Allwyn George took the I-League by storm towards the end of last season but that wasn’t enough to convince the national team coach to give him a regular starting spot. The upcoming fixture provides Allwyn with a chance to prove that he can play better than Francis and it can lead to a worthy note in the coach’s book. Pailan Arrows will be trying to build on their momentum while Salgaocar are trying hard to recover from the early slump. This battle provides much more on the field and this will be the match to watch out for in Round 3.
Players To Watch Out For: Angel Guirado (Salgaocar SC), Onagnam Milan Singh (Pailan Arrows)
Prediction: Salgaocar 2 – 2 Pailan Arrows
Shillong Lajong FC vs Sporting Club de Goa
28th October, Nehru Stadium, Shillong
Shillong Lajong FC under Desmond Bulpin had a good start to the campaign by upsetting the mariners. They were able to carry that momentum against the Goan outfit Salgaocar as they secured another precious point in the sack race. Goal keeper Lalthuammawia Ralte was outstanding between the sticks on the opening day while defender Minchol Son was the hero in the draw against Salgaocar SC. Like the English game, Desmond Bulpin likes to build the team around a strong defense and likewise he has amazed with a good bunch of defenders for the north eastern outfit. In midfield, Lajong has the experienced Indian international Renedy Singh ticking the game on along with foreign recruit Ebi Sukore and fellow Indian Jibon Singh. Shillong Lajong’s strike force has got a real boost when G Friday arrived to partner Sushil Singh and they are combining well upfront to create problems for opposition defences. The Shillong based side welcomes the Goans for their third consecutive home match with the aim of securing maximum points which will help them avoid relegation.
Football is a passion for the Goans, be it Churchill, Dempo, Salgaocar, Vasco or Sporting. The tiny state breathes football in every nook and corner. Sporting Clube de Goa started the season by stealing a point from the Federation Cup champions East Bengal with a gritty defensive display. East Bengal players were wasteful in-front of goal and Sporting Club took that point as a bonus as they didn’t improve much when they hosted local rivals Dempo. Dempo punished them for their mistake and ran riot through the Sporting defence to come away with a 5 goal win. In the absence of a clinical striker Sporting had found it very difficult to break the opposition defence, as Bong Bertrand is injured, Dawson and Victorino Fernandez need to step up for the game against the north eastern outfit if they are to salvage some pride in the I-League. Not many might have predicted relegation for Sporting, even-though it’s too early to make a call, they need to step up to the occasion if they have to survive the relegation dog fight. Ogba Kalu is expected to make a return from injury along with Adil Khan and it might boost the confidence of the flaming Orange. Ekendra Singh’s boys need to plug the holes in defense, otherwise the floodgates will be open for the north eastern outfit to exploit.
Players To Watch Out For: Ebi Sukore (Shillong Lajong FC), Ogba Kalu (Sporting Clube de Goa)
Prediction: Shillong Lajong FC 1 – 0 Sporting Clube de Goa
Air-India vs Mohun Bagan AC
28th October, Balewadi Sports Complex, Pune
It is a battle between two sides which are at the bottom of the table having lost their opening matches. Air-India welcome Mohun Bagan after having lost to Prayag and Arrows in Kolkata and the Godfrey Pereira coached side would be hoping for a change in their fortunes. Sukhwinder Singh should start in goal while the defense will be led by the Senegalese Lamine Tamba who will be accompanied by Ramandeep Singh, Baldeep Singh and the veteran John Dias. Micky Fernandez who scored from a free-kick against Prayag is expected to pull the strings in the midfield and alongside him will be Souvik Chakraborty, Pradeep Mohanraj and Prakash Thorat. The Nigerian duo of Elja Junior and Henry Ezeh will lead the attack for the Airmen. Air-India defeated Bagan 2-0 in the Federation Cup this year and will look to that match for inspiration.
Bagan begin their campaign after the sacking of Santosh Kashyap and until Karim Bencherifa takes over, Mridul Banerjee will be the interim coach. Arindam Bhattacharya has been one of the better performers for Bagan and will start in goal. Khelemba Singh and Echezona Anyichie are set to start in the center of defense accompanied by national team players Nabi and Nirmal on the left and right sides. The defense despite the presence of big names has struggled to find proper coordination among themselves. Jewel Raja, Denson Devdas, Manish Maithani and Rakesh Masih are likely to start in the midfield while the much famed duo of Odafa and Tolgay are set to start up-front. After failing to put in an inspired performance, Odafa and Tolgay will be hoping to set things right. Nothing less than a win would satisfy the angry Bagan fans at the moment and the team will be looking to get the elusive first win
Players To Watch Out For: Micky Fernandez (Air-India), Odafe Okolie (Mohun Bagan)
Prediction: Air-India 1 -2 Mohun Bagan
East Bengal vs Pune FC
29th October, Salt-Lake Stadium, Kolkata
East Bengal play hosts to Pune FC on 29th of October in what can be termed as I-league’s clash of the week. Pune FC is considered to be the dark horse as far as the race for the I-league crown is concerned. East Bengal has not looked like a side which could challenge Dempo but it is still very early in the season and a commanding performance here against a strong Pune outfit could swing the balance in their side. With two back to back games on the road, East Bengal will play their first home match and will be hoping for the home crowd to turn in numbers to support them. The Red and Gold brigade has dominated proceedings in both of their matches but sadly only have one goal to show for their efforts. Mehtab Hossain has been the stand out performer for the Bengal giants so far but he would need a lot of help from the likes of Penn Orji and Chidi if they are to to rattle the Pune side. East Bengal need to improve their performance in the final third of the pitch as their strikers have squandered a number of chances against much weaker opponents; a side like Pune FC will punish them hard if Trevor Morgan’s men commit similar mistakes against them.
Pune FC is one of the four sides who have managed to win both their opening fixtures this season but both their matches have gone down to the wire. They squandered a two goal advantage against ONGC and a one goal lead against Mumbai FC but on both occasions finished strongly and managed to snatch the three points. The biggest worry for their Goan manager Derrick Pereira has to be their defense which has looked porous. Pune’s strikers and midfielders have really had to dig in deep to restore their lead. Pune possesses one of the fastest midfield lineups in the I-league which gives them a huge advantage over the rest of the sides. East Bengal on the other hand is tactically very strong. It is difficult to call this match but THT predicts East Bengal to walk away with the spoils come this Monday.
Players To Watch Out For: Mehtab Hossain (East Bengal) ,Jeje Lalpekhlua (Pune FC)
Prediction: East Bengal 1-0 Pune FC
Contributors : Joseph George, Rahul Bhutani and Sachin Madaan