The I-League is back and after the Indian Football fans got the taste of English Premier League, La-Liga and others, it is time to sit back and enjoy the thrills from the I-League. New foreigners, permission to fieldAi??more foreign players than beforeAi??and anAi??excitingAi??set of young Indian players has meant that the fans are eagerly awaiting the start of the new season.

The 2012-13 I-League kicks off on the 6th of October and matchday 1Ai??sees Dempo square off against Churchill Brothers in a match that promises to beAi??exciting. TheHardTackle takes a look at all the 7 matches of the round 1 to be played on 6th and 7th of October.

United Sikkim vs Salgaocar FC

6th October, Paljor Stadium, Gangtok

Baichung Bhutiaai??i??s brainchild, United Sikkim FC is about to make their much awaited I-League debut on Saturday as the Gangtok based team welcome former champions Salgaocar FC. The opening match is expected to be played in front of a packed house of 25000 people at the Palijor Stadium. United under the mentorship of Belgian coach De Ridder, has assimilated a more than decent squad in the transfer window and after a disappointing federation cup campaign, where the club fared without the services of their foreign players; the side will be raring to test themselves on the big stage.

The Karim Bencharifa coached goan side makes a long journey to lock horns with a tricky side in round one. Salgaocar SC finished the last season positioned at a disappointing sixth place, failing toAi??defend their title. This season, despite losing aAi??number of key players in the transfer window, Salgaocar played as a cohesive unit and displayed their prowess in the Fed Cup. The Vasco based club will be looking to kick start their season with a sound away victory amid a hostile atmosphere in Gangtok come Saturday. Any sort of points from this match would be hard earned and well deserved.

Men to Watch Out For:Ai??Salau Nuruddin (United Sikkim FC), Sean Rooney (Salgaocar FC)

Verdict: United Sikkim 1 -1 Ai??Salgaocar

 

Ai??Pailan Arrows vs Mumbai FC

6th October, Salt-Lake Stadium, Kolkata

Papas- Can he Inspire Arrows?

Arthur Papas mentored development side will be brimming with confidence when they start the new season after undefeated Durand Cup and Federation Cup campaigns. Arthur Papas has instilled his philosophies in the squad and the brand of passing football displayed by the Arrows, coupled with their flexibility, can cause major trouble for the Mumbaikars. Defender Souvik Ghosh who can play as a left back and centre back is growing in stature and was rewarded by a call-up to the national squad along with the teamai??i??s primary weapon Alwyn George. Milan Singh and Holicharan Narzary are other notable names in the Arrows squad sheet that can turn the game on their own feet.

Khalid Jamilai??i??s Mumbai FC pins its hopes on the strike force lead by Yusif Yakubu, David Okpara and Abhishek Yadav. Afghanistani defender Zohib Amiri and upcoming Justin Stephen will have the responsibility of marshalling the back four against the free-flowing Arrows side. The inexperienced Arrows defenders Souvik Ghosh and Co have to be on their toes to keep the clinical strikers Okpara and Co. on their tracks and this battle might have the final say in this high scoring match.

These two teams faced each other in a Federation Cup fixture which ended up 2-2, after a late equalizer from Arrows cancelled out Okparaai??i??s strikes. Arrows are slowly establishing their passing range in Indian football scenario while Mumbai FC presents an aerial threat to the opposition and it presents an interesting battle on the cards on the opening day.

Men to Watch Out For: Alwyn George (Pailan Arrows), David Okpara (Mumbai FC)

Verdict: Pailan Arrows 3 ai??i?? 2 Mumbai FC

 

Pune FC – ONGC FC

6th October, Balewadi Sports Complex, Pune

Pune FC is tipped as the dark horse by many in this yearai??i??s I-League battle while ONGC are one of the favourites for the drop. Derrick Perrieraai??i??s Pune FC is one of the most professional clubs in India since its inception in 2007 and they have started reaping its benefit through some consistent performances last year.

The team has stabilized over the years and they possess a squad which will be targeting a top 4 finish this time around. James Moga and Jeje Lalpukhela forms a lethal strike force which can carryAi??high expectations for the hosts. In Arata Izumi, Shanumugham Venkitesh, Chika Vali and Karma T they have experienced I-League campaigners who know the competition in and out, which will help them in the longer run. India #1Ai??Subrata Pal went in search for greener pasturesAi??so Abhra Mondal and Shahin Lal Meloy will be fighting it out for a place under the posts.

David Lalrimuana and Tarif AhmedAi??are expected to carry out the weight of expectations of the Mumbai based institutional side ONGC, which is expected to shift to New Delhi to spread the I-League all over the country. The newly promoted I-League team didnai??i??t strengthen their team as expected in the summer and will be relying mainly on their foreign recruits Katsumi Yusa and Oneyama Eke in their mission impossible this season. Bibek Bhowmickai??i??s team can pull a surprise or two in the I-League season by upsetting the giants, even though a survival is looking unrealistic at the moment. Will it happen in the first round itself? Or will they pay the price for not strengthening their squad?

Men to Watch Out For:Ai??Jeje Lalpukhela (Pune FC), Katsumi Yusa (ONGC)

Verdict: Pune FC 3 – 1 ONGC

 

Shillong Lajong FC – Mohun Bagan AC

6th October, Nehru Stadium, Shillong

Shillong Lajong embarks on the beginning of a new campaign, after successfully avoiding the drop last season. Former India U-23 coach Desmond Bulpin is at the helm for the Meghalaya based club and is looking to revolutionize them from the grass root level. The club which represents the face of North East has first four rounds of matches at home. Desmond Bulpin will be expecting his young and now a little experienced teamAi??to make the most of these matches. The first round witnessesAi??Lajong facing a difficult challengeAi??from Mohun Bagan in front of jam packed stadium. SLFC had a below par Fed Cup campaign where Bulpinai??i??s side could conjure only a single victory. The squad will be looking to capitalize and learn from the mistakes.

Mohun Bagan makes a short trip to Shillong to face the home side on Saturday afternoon. The Mariners have had a horrific Fed Cup, especially keeping in mind the stars the club has managed to sign. The former champions, under the mentorship of former Air India coach Santosh Kashyap will be expected to fight for the much eluded I-League title till the last round, if not win it. With the strike partnership of Odafa and Tolgay upfront, the mariners without a shadow of a doubt flaunt the best strike force in the whole country. It is yet to be seen whether the high profile signings conjure up all three points or will the bubble burst once again for the Sabuj Maroon fans in Shillong. Tolgay, who hasAi??traveledAi??with the squad, might be doubtful for the match, so the fans could get a taste of Odafa – Sabeeth partnership as well. Jewel Raja and Rakesh Masih would be forming the core in the centre of the park with Nirmal, Nabi and Meetei holding the backline.

Men to Watch Out For:Ai??Ebi Sukore (Shillong Lajong FC), Odafa (Mohun Bagan AC)

Verdict:Ai??Shillong Lajong FC 1 ai??i?? 0 Mohun Bagan AC

 

Dempo SC – Churchill Brothers SC

6th October, Fatorda Stadium, MargaoAi??

The marquee match of the first round is a Goan derby which pips Churchill Brothers against defending champions Dempo Sports Club. Both teams come into the match in a rich vein of form with Churchill having reached the semi-finals of the Fed Cup while Dempo went a step ahead and finished runners-up.

Climax Lawrence : The Heart of Dempo Midfield

Climax Lawrence : The Heart of Dempo Midfield

Defending champions come into this game on a high after having reached the Fed Cup final. The continuity of the Indian players in the team seems to be paying richAi??dividends.Ai?? Subhasish Roy Choudhary will start under the posts while Debarata Roy and Sameer Naik will occupy the left and right full back spots. It is still unclear whether new recruit Ai??Stephen Ofei would line-up inAi??this match so Mahesh Gawli and Creson Antao are likely to play in the center of defense.Ai?? Clifford Miranda and Anthony PereiraAi??will occupy the left and right spots in the midfield while tireless Climax Lawrence and Ryuiji Sueoka will play in the middle. Koko Sakibo after a good run in the Federation Cup will start up-front for the I-League Champions and is likely to be accompanied by former Arsenal striker Rohan RickettsAi??whose debut the fans are eagerly awaiting.

Churchill Will Look to Beto For Inspiration !!

Churchill Will Look to Beto For Inspiration !!

Churchill will start with veteran Sandip Nandy in goal whileAi??LebaneseAi??defenderAi??Bilal Najjarin would led the defense and will be accompanied byAi??Yumnam Raju in the center of the defense while Denzil Franco and Raju are likely to start on the right and left flanks. Beto will start as the attacking midfielder and will be accompanied by Lenny Rodrigues, Tomba Singh and Bikramjit Singh in a four man midfield. Lenny will face a daunting task of stopping the in-form Dempo midfield from making forays in to Churchill’s half. Ai??Akram Moghrabi and Henry Antchouet would start up-front and the duo has theAi??capabilityAi??to trouble the Dempo defense.

Men to Watch Out For: Beto(Churchill Brothers)

Verdict: Dempo 1 – 1 Ai??Churchill

Ai??Prayag United SC – Air India

7th October, Salt-Lake Stadium, Kolkata

The big spenders of the league, the team which has been raising quite a few eyebrows during the transfer season, kick off their campaign at home against Air India on Sunday afternoon. Sonjay Sen mentored side had a Fed Cup to forget as they side could not garner a single victory and facedAi??an opening day loss to Salgaocar. It was quite evident that the new recruits were struggling to synch up as a team. Ranti Martins is expected to make his I-League debut for the new club alongside Costa Rican attacking midfielder Hernandez. India international Gourmangi Singh will be seen alongside veteran Bello Rasaq at the back. Captain Lalkamal Bhowmick would be seen marshalling the midfield alongside a whole bunch of new faces in the midfield. Asif K started for the purple brigade and the former Chirag Kerala midfielder is expected to play a vital role for his team once again.

The Pilots finished at an impressive ninth position in the league table last year. Under the new leadership of Godfrey Pereira, the pilots will be hoping to repeat their gritty performances from last season. Despite of a lot of influential players leaving the club in the summer, the Air India squad is up for the challenge as they travel to Kolkata for their first round clash. The Mumbai based club was buoyed by the signing of ex-Prayag striker Nigerian Junior Elijah, who will certainly add teeth to their attack upfront. Air India gave a demo of how the newly put together team can turn the tide when they defeated much fancied Mohun Bagan side during the Fed Cup. Captain Lamine Tamba, who will have his work cut out against a strong attack on Sunday, would be spearheading the defence

Men to Watch Out For:Ai??Ranti Martins (Prayag United SC), Lamine Tamba (Air India)

Verdict: Prayag United 2 – 0 Air-India

 

Sporting Clube de Goa – East Bengal FC

7th October, Fatorda Stadium, MargaoAi??

Sporting Club de goa will be aiming for a top half finish in I-League this season and their campaign starts off against the impressive Federation cup winners East Bengal. The Flaming Orange is a team which never fulfilled their potential after a surprising 2004-05 campaign and will be hoping for a repeat of that season this time around. Sporting defence remains the same with impressive Keita Boubacar marshalling the troops which conceded plenty of goals last season and will be hoping for a better performance this season. Ogba Kalu and Adil Khan provide a solid and sharp midfield for the likes of Bong Bertrand and Co to pump in goals. The loss of James Moga may hurt them, but they will be hoping for a sensational performance from Bong to make up for the loss.

Mehtab will hold the key for East Bengal

Mehtab will hold the key for East Bengal

East BengalAi??starts their new campaign after an impressive win against I-League champions Dempo in the Federation cup final. Injuries to key players may hurt their chances in the opening fixture, still the Kolkata giants have enough weapons in their armoury, which points towards an I-League title challenge in this campaign. In Captain Sanju Pradhan and Mehtab Hussain this team possess two outstanding midfielders who know the pulse of I-League. Impressive youngsters like Manandeep Singh and Lalrindike Ralte have tremendous are waiting to be unleashed to cause havoc in opposition defence. Edeh Chidi has made the first impression in the colours of flaming orange and a return presents an interesting battle on the cards. Raju Gaekwad and Naoba Singh will spearhead the backline with the hopes of impressing the national team coach Wim Koevermars in this fixture. East Bengal is looking favourites for this match and anything other than a win will undermine their seasonai??i??s campaign.

Men to Watch Out For: Bong Bertand (Sporting), Mehtab Hossain(East Bengal)

Verdict: Sporting 1 – 3 East Bengal

Contributors : Joseph George, Kunwar Deep Singh and Rahul Bhutani

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4 Responses to “I-League Preview: Ricketts to Debut as Dempo face Churchill Brothers while Sporting host East Bengal”

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  1. What about fixtures of I League 2nd division also let us know the fixtures of U-19 team of clubs.

    • Somnath Sengupta says:

      Hi Mahesh,

      Division-2 and U19 leagues usually start later than I-League. We will surely cover them once the fixtures have been declared by AIFF.