The action is heating up in the I-League and its time for the round 8. TheHardTackle takes a look at the matches and also at key tactical battles that could shape the results in the seven matches to be played in this round.
East Bengal host Salgaocar
League leaders East Bengal look to put more misery on Salgaocar as they host the latter. Karim Bencharifa’s departure has left Salgaocar in no mans land and in the aftermath many twists and turns occurred in a controversial affair for Salgaocar. The Goans are yet to recover from their slump by collecting a meager 6 points from an available 21. It clearly indicates the bad start for them in the title race which left a huge gap behind fellow contenders East Bengal, who are leading the table with 17 points.
Kolkata giants East Bengal had the rub of the green in the top of the table clash against Dempo earlier and made the top spot their own with a resounding 5-0 victory against ONGC – an opponent where the former champions Dempo SC had found it difficult to get going.East Bengal so far have been impressive by notching up 14 goals in 7 matches and they possess a healthy goal difference of +13 in the process. Their defense has been rock solid this season by keeping 6 clean sheets out of 7 an enviable record for other challengers.
Edeh Chidi, Penn Orji, Manandeep Singh and Robin Singh chipped in with goals when needed while Naoba Singh, Raju Gaekwad, Arnab Mondal, Uga Okpara supported by Mehtab Hussain and Harmanjot Khabra have provided a defensive shield in front of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu which is proving out to be difficult to break down for the opposition. The Red and Gold brigade look formidable on the paper as well as on field and it will require a miracle from the Goans to upset the Kolkata giants.
Salgaocar will be trying to get back on track after earning a draw against Galacticos Prayag United SC. They need to notch up impressive wins in the upcoming rounds if they are hoping for a title challenge this year. It’s looking like a mission impossible for them at the moment as things aren’t going in their favor The ingredients are their in the Salgaocar camp in the form of Sean Rooney, Angel Guirado, Luciano Sabrosa, Francis Fernandez and Karanjit Singh. They need to play as a team to get behind this difficult period to turn things around even though it looks like a Herculean task at this moment.
Prayag United and Churchill Brothers aiming for top spots
Indian Galacticos Prayag United welcomes Churchill Brothers after they shared spoils with another Goan team in the previous round. Currently these teams occupy the third and fourth spots in the I-League table and will be looking to consolidate their position. Ranti Martins inspired Prayag United has been among the goals this season and the mercurial striker is supported well by Carlos Hernandez and co. The problematic area for the Kolkata based side is their defense as Subrata Pal, Gourmangi Singh and Bello Rasaq are not properly shutting down their shop.
It will be an interesting battle when the brilliance of Akram Mograbhi and Roberto Silva lines up against the shaky Prayag United defence. The Indian Trio of Lenny Rodriguez, Steven Diaz and Denzil Franco have been impressive for the reds from Goa. Coming in the aftermath of a last gap winner against Shillong Lajong, Churchill Brothers will be riding high on their confidence. When these two title challengers lock horns in Kolkata, the fans will be expecting a fierce battle in the land of football.
Dempo Welcomes Mohun Bagan at its den
It required a last gasp winner from Joaquim Abaranches for Dempo to out muscle relegation favorites Air India at the Fatorda. The controversy marred side had a difficult to few weeks prior to the match as they had to deal with the show cause notice to their Coach Armando Colaco and a suspension for Climax Lawrence. Their confidence is affected on the aftermath and they struggled to get past one of the easiest opponents in I-League. The Goan flavor was missing in Dempo’s win against Air India, and a big step up is needed if they are hoping of securing full points from Karim Bencharifa inspired Mohun Bagan. Rohan Ricketts and Co needs to get their act together in this crucial encounter and Dempo needs to play as a team rather than a bunch of individuals.
Karim Bencharifa’s first match didn’t go according to the plan for Mariners as they had to share the spoils with Mumbai FC. Even though Mohun Bagan recovered from their early slump they aren’t playing the brand of football which the fans are looking forward to. Odafa Okolie has been among the goals for the mariners but Tolgay Ozbey hasn’t found his feet after switching the Red and Gold colours. The Indian football contingent is strong in both the teams and they will be trying hard to make their point in-front of Wim Koevermars. A fierce battle can be expected at Fatorda on the wake of the controversies.
Pailan Arrows are coming off age in I-League and visits Lajong with high hopes
Shillong Lajong FC will be trying to make full advantage of the home conditions when they welcome AIFF developmental team Pailan Arrows. Ebi Sukore and Gbeneme Friday are entrusted with the responsibility of carrying the local’s hopes and their performances so far have been commendable to say the least. Shillong Lajong has two impressive scalps when they came up against Kolkata based sides Mohun Bagan and Prayag United. Desmond Blupin coached side would be dissapointed by the last minute goal they conceded, their good work in last round fixture they will be ready for the tactical battle against the impressive Indian youngsters.
Pailan Arrows came back to winning ways at Goa in their last encounter after 4 matches. Arthur Papas team brings a lot of positives to Indian Football even though media has the knack of bringing the negatives out. Possession based brand of football has been clicking well with Papas tactical reshuffles and the opponents are finding it hard to predict Arrows style of play. The tactical acumen of Papas combined with the fighting spirit and talents of young Indian Footballers has found the perfect mix fans were eagerly waiting for. Goals are coming from all over the field of Pailan Arrows and it will be tricky fixture for the North eastern side. Arrows team tactics has varied upon teams and we can expect another tactical tweak from the Australian this time around.
Air India faces off with United Sikkim in relegation mud fight
Air India fought brilliantly against the defending champions at their own den before succumbing to a late goal. Even though Air India find themselves at the bottom of I-League table, they will be looking forward to this battle with fellow relegation candidates United Sikkim FC. United Sikkim on the other hand put their dismal effort against Prayag United to bed with an impressive draw against the Red Lizards from Pune in their last encounter. M Pradeep and Micky Fernandez will be looking forward to this match against Baichung Bhutia’s men as an opportunity to climb the ladders. At the same time Anwar Ali and Co will be looking to increase the gap at the bottom of the table. Usual relegation mud fight can be expected when these two teams fight it out for survival in Indian football’s top flight.
James Moga Returns to Sporting Club with Pune FC
Sporting Club welcomes back James Moga, as they are yet to recover from the loss of their talismatic striker who wears the same goal scoring boot for the Red Lizards. James Moga’s double was enough to secure a point at the Balewadi Sports complex against United Sikkim FC. But that cannot hide the dismal penalty taken by the clubs flag bearer Jeje Lalpekhula. Pune FC’s defence were vulnerable to the penetrating attacks of the snow lions and they need to close the gaps on their travel to Goa. If pune’s defense was vulnerable there attackers weren’t any better as they squandered chances to secure the vital 3 points. Pune FC is considered as the dark horses in the title race by many and they need to step up their pursuit in Goa to garner points against the flaming oranges.
Mumbai FC has a chance to capitalize on ONGC’s dreadful away form
Each point is crucial in relegation battle, and this will be playing in the minds of both teams as Mumbai FC welcomes ONGC. Delhi based institutional side ONGC has found it hard on the travels as they have shipped in 13 goals in 3 outings so far and needs to plug out the gaps in defense in this relegation battle to make amends. Mumbai FC will be aware of ONGC’s dubious away record and will try to capitalize on it to gain an upper hand in this year’s I-League relegation battle.
Kingfisher East Bengal Club 1 – 0 Salgaocar FC
Air India FC 1 – 2 URO United SikkimFootball Club
Sporting Clube de Goa 1 – 2 Pune FC
Prayag United Sports Club 2 – 2 Churchill Brothers SC
Mumbai FC 3 – 1 ONGC FC
Shillong Lajong FC 1 – 2 Pailan Arrows
Dempo Sports Club 1 – 1 McDowell Mohun Bagan A.C