I League 2012/13 was off to a rollicking start as the first round witnessed a number of goals and some shocking results. Indian football fans will be hoping the excitement levels remain undiminished as the teams gear up for second match-day.

United Sikkim vs East Bengal

11th October, Paljor Stadium, Gangtok

United Sikkim play their second home match against Federation Cup winners East Bengal after registering a win against Salgaocar on their debut with Lineker Machado , Sandesh Jhingan and Salau Nuruddin scoring the goals . The 12,000 strong crowd cheered their team on and motivated them to come back twice after being a goal down. Their defense looked shaky and both the goals against Salgaocar were a result of poor co-ordination between the back four and goal-keeper Yoon Tae. The back-four led by former Indian international Anwar Ali and Costa Rican Michael Rodríguez will look to maintain a tight leash on the Edeh Chidi & co. Linekar Machado and Raju Debnath are likely to lead the midfield for Snow Lions while  ex East Bengal striker Budhiram Tudu and Salau Nuruddin will start upfront and look to maintain their good form. Coach De Ridder is expected to play a 5 man defense and as in the last game will be looking to attack on counters.

After being held to a draw by Sporting Club de Goa , East Bengal make the trip to Gangtok to take on United Sikkim. The Federation Cup champions struggled to create chances and wasted whatever little chances they had in Goa.  Sporting troubled the Red and Golden brigade with their speedy play and East Bengal defense, led by Uga Okpara, will have to be careful against the Snow Lions who play on counters. Goal-keeper Abhijit Mondal can have another busy day under the posts. Mehtab Hossain and Penn Orji accompanied by Sanju Pradhan and Ralte on the right and left flanks will look to create more chances this time while Chidi Edeh and Manandeep Singh will look to get back their scoring touch after both forwards wasted chances in the previous match. Robin Singh can also get a look in instead of Manandeep. Trevor Morgan will look to press from the start as these are matches his team needs to win to mount a sustained title challenge.

Players To Watch Out For: Salau Nuruddin (United Sikkim), Penn Orji ( East Bengal)

Prediction: United Sikkim 1 -1 East Bengal

Churchill Brothers vs ONGC FC

11th October, Fatorda Stadium, Margao

After an inspired performance in the first game against Dempo, a game which they could have won, Churchill host newly promoted ONGC. Churchill Bros. squad looks settled under the captainship of Beto who forms an effective partnership with Lenny Rodriguez in the center of the park. The duo is likely to be assisted by Tomba Singh and Steven Dias on the left and right flanks. The Churchill midfield is one of the best in the country and is expected to create a lot of chances against ONGC. Sandip Nandy committied a school-boy error in the first game and will be looking to improve. Bilal Najjarin will lead the 4 man defense which will see the likes of Denzil Franco and Yumnam Raju while Henry would lead the attack upfront. Lebanese frontman Akram Moghrabi is expected to come on in the second half, as has been the case so far. It is imperative for Churchill Brothers to win this match in order to stay in the hunt for the title , a fact that both  Subhash Bhowmick and Mariano Dias know

ONGC come into the match after losing to Pune FC and this match is likely to be another tough encounter for them. ONGC gave a good account of themselves in the Federation Cup as well as the first match of the I-League where they went down narrowly. Former Indian International Jatin Bisht, along with Japanese Katsumi Yusa hold the key for the team after both scored against Pune FC. Striker Oneyama Eke is the another crucial player for the Oil men.  He is likely to be accompanied by Tarif Ahmed upfront. The defense however continues to be a weak spot after conceding soft goals against Pune FC. ONGC will have to play out of their skins to gain any points out of this fixture which looks an unlikely proposition at the moment.

Players To Watch Out For : Beto (Churchill Brothers), Katsumi Yusa (ONGC)

Verdict: Churchill Brothers 3 – 0 ONGC

Pune FC vs Mumbai FC

11th October, Balewadi Sports Complex, Pune

I LeaguePune FC is coming into this match after their best ever start to I-League. A 3-2 win against ONGC meant that this was the first time that the Pune based side had grabbed 3 points in a season opener. After controlling the match in initial stages and going up by 2 goals, they let the lead slip but were rescued by seasoned veteran S Venkatesh to secure three points. Pune FC were shaky when the opponents attacked and they need to be more compact in defense if they want to add to their tally. Jeje and Subhash has already opened their scoring charts and will be looking to build from it in the match against Mumbai FC. James Moga’s return to fitness will boost the Pune side and with the strike force in full strength, they will be hoping to pierce the opponents defence time and again. Skipper Douhou Peirre and Karma Tsewang were impressive on the flanks and will be looking to take things under control from the word go. Goal keeper Shahinlal Meloy is expected to continue between the sticks and has to improve from his performance against ONGC.

Mumbai FC came back strongly to take the lead in their opening fixture against Pailan Arrows after going down by an early goal. But their error prone defence gifted  two goals to the opposition. Two silly mistakes from ‘keeper Sanjiban Gosh lead to Holicharan Narzary’s brace while defender Justin Stephen conceded a penalty to make things worse for the Mumbai side. Apart from their defensive mistakes Mumbai FC had a decent game. Okpara and Amiri showed good understanding upfront to put pressure on opposition defence. Captain Evans put a full shift in the middle and was seen everywhere with his tireless running to support the attack and defence. Okpara is looking in great touch and he is expected to trouble the vulnerable Pune defence. Sanjiban Gosh and his back four has to improve in leaps and bounds if Mumbai is to win first three points of the season.

Players To Watch Out For: Jeje Lalpekhula (Pune FC), David Okpara (Mumbai FC)

Prediction: Pune FC 3 – 2 Mumbai FC

Pailan Arrows vs Air India

11th October, Salt-Lake Stadium, Kolkata

Pailan Arrows will be brimming with confidence after their win against Mumbai FC. They were impressive throughout, apart from a few defensive lapses which gifted goals to the opposition. Arrows’ build up play and flexibility proved too hot to handle for the Mumbaikars and will be cause worry for Aircraftsmen as well. Alwyn George : Reading to Step into Big Shoes !!!Holicharan Narzary was in the right spot at the right time to capitalize on the defensive errors from the opponents and he will be looking to continue his good form. Touted as the next big thing in Indian Football – Alwyn George was brilliant in patches but was invisible otherwise. Captain Milan Singh was impressive along with Abinao Barg and Pronay Halder and will be looking to build on the momentum gained. Ravi Kumar’s goal keeping was a cause of concern for Arthur Papas’ side and he needs to improve a lot if he is hoping to secure the no.1 spot between the sticks. Pailan Arrows are a treat to watch when on form and will be hoping for another impressive win against Air India.

Air India is finding themselves in the foot of the table after a horrible start to their I-league campaign. A 5-1 drubbing at the hands of 10 man Prayag United is something the Air-Craftsmen would like to forget as a nightmare when they head into the second game. Henry Ezeh and Elijah Juinor have to pull up their socks and need to put an inspirational performance if they need to survive in the I-League. Both strikers couldn’t score against the 10 men opposition and will be looking to make up for it with a goal or two against Pailan Arrows. Micky Fernandez scored a brilliant freekick and will be looking to chip in with more goals. Goalkeeper Sukhwinder Singh and his back four had a day to forget at Kolkata and need vast improvements on their second visit if they are to secure their first points in this campaign. Air India needs to raise their game to take the points away from the impressive Pailan Arrows side and fans will be hoping for an impressive end to end stuff in second round I-league match. 

Players To Watch Out For: Holicharan Narzary (Pailan Arrows), Micky Fernandez (Air India)

Prediction: Pailan Arrows 3 – 1 Air India

Shillong Lajong FC vs Salgaocar

12th October, Nehru Stadium, Shillong

The club from Meghalaya got off to a perfect start to their I-League season as the Desmond Bulpin mentored side got the better of much fancied Mohun Bagan to send the home crowd into delirium. The North Eastern club took the game with the scruff of its neck after a nervy start and built free flowing attacks, scoring twice without reply. Goalkeeper L. Ralte is once again expected to start under the bars for the Shillong side after putting in a Man of the Match performance in the last round. G. Friday and India international Sushil Singh will pair up front with Rennedy and Ebi Sukore playing just behind them. Goal scorer from first round, Lalramluaha is expected to tread the left flank. Shillong Lajong is currently positioned at the second position and with another home game, the side would certainly fancy their chances to register another win at Shillong and boost their chance to finish the season in top half.

Former champions had a disappointing start to their season as the Vasco side succumbed to a 3-2 defeat at the hands of newcomers United Sikkim FC in Gangtok. The Goan side let the lead slip away twice to go back without any points despite scoring two goals. New recruit Filipino striker Angel Guirado scoring on I-League debut was one of the brighter highlights for coach Karim Bencharifa. Guirado will certainly start alongside Angelo D’souza with Quinton Jacobs feeding from the middle of the park. Karanjit Singh will start as the custodian and captain Sabrosa and Rahul will form the central defensive pair. Francis Fernandes, Lamare and Milagres will fill up the mid field. Another defeat in Shillong could witness Bencharifa penning down the catch up plan quite early in the season. Salgaocar started slow last season never fully recovered, despite performing well in the latter part of it. They will not want to make the same mistake again.

Players To Watch Out For: Rennedy Singh (Lajong), Milagres Gonsalves (Salgaocar)

Prediction: Lajong 1– 1 Salgaocar

Mohun Bagan vs Prayag United

12th October, Salt-Lake Stadium, Kolkata

Things just don’t seem to work right for Mohun Bagan this season. Despite assembling one of the most expensive teams in the country India’s oldest club crashed out unceremoniously from Federation Cup. Their I-League campaign began poorly as well as they were humbled by Lajong FC in their opening match. Coach Santosh Kashyap is under immense pressure and his decision to change tactics to play a previously unused 4-3-2-1 formation against Lajong has also been questioned. Two problems that have plagued Mohun Bagan in past 2 seasons – fitness and defence are present this season as well. Most of the squad lack proper fitness while the defence without Rahim Nabi looked hapless against Lajong. Nabi is likely to start against Prayag United as will Tolgay Ozbey, who shook off an injury he suffered during training. Kashyap will reportedly go back to the two pronged attack with Tolgay partnering Odafa. The midfield against Lajong United was too defensive minded so Jewel Raja is likely to find his way back into the starting XI in this match. The biggest worry for Mohun Bagan will be how much of a resistance the central defence can muster against one of the most potent strike forces in the country. Mohun Bagan fans have engaged in protests against the current club administration in past few days and their patience will run even thinner if Mohun Bagan fail to get a result in this match.

Prayag United has often proved to be a nemesis of Mohun Bagan in recent times and by current form they will start favourites for this match. Prayag bounced back in style from their Federation Cup debacle by dishing out what was the best performance of first round. The Purple brigade thrashed Durand Cup champions Air India 5-1 with Ranty Martins showing why he has been the I-League top scorer in past two seasons. Martins scored a hattrick and assisted Prayag’s other goals while combining seamlessly with high profile signing Carlos Hernandez. Prayag is likely to play a 4-4-2 formation as well with Hernandez as deep lying play-maker. One of the high profile misses in Prayag United will be Bello Razzaq, who was sent off after 20 minutes in the last match. Subrata Paul and Gourmangi Singh didn’t play in the last match but will be looking to get back in form as Wim Koevermans will be present for this match.

Players To Watch Out For: Odafa Okalie (Mohun Bagan), Ranty Martins (Prayag United)

Prediction: Mohun Bagan 1-1 Prayag United

Sporting Clube de Goa vs Dempo

12th October, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Goa

Flaming Oranje from Goa are currently placed at eighth position in the table after playing out a goal-less stalemate against former champions East Bengal at the Tilak Maidan on Saturday. Ekendra Singh mentored side now face off against a much familiar opponent Dempo in the second round. The orange brigade synched up well against Fed Cup champions to clinch a point in the first round, and the team will be hoping to bag all three points come Friday. Mackroy Peixoto is again expected to lead the midfield for the Goan team with Dawson Fernandes upfront. Jovel Martins would be our man to watch out for this derby.

Dempo, three time I-League champions stamped their authority and started their title challenge in style as the Panjim based side managed to garner all three points against an ambitious Churchill side on the opening day. The second round clash witnesses another derby for the Dempo fans as they prepare to lock horns against Sporting. New Japanese recruit Ryuji Sueoka scored a very impressive brace amid some good moves churned up by Dempo’s crisp passing. Dempo are once again expected to start with Ryuji and another new face, Rohan Ricketts up front with Climax in the heart of the midfield. Anthony and Clifford will take up the right and the left flank duty as usual. With Subhashish in the goal, Gawli and Debabrata would be guarding the centre of the defense. Dempo are currently placed at the third spot with maximum points from their opening game and another win here could very well see the defending champs finish the second round at the summit of the table.

Players to Watch Out For: Mackroy Peixoto (Sporting Club ), Joachim Abranches (Dempo FC)

Prediction: Sporting Club 2 -1 Dempo

Contributors : Somnath Sengupta, Joseph George, Kunwar Deep Singh and Rahul Bhutani