In past decade I-League has attracted foreign players from a lot of nations across the world. Early part of the new millennium was dominated by players from Brazil and Africa. Brazilian players like Jose Ramirez Barreto, Luciano Sabrosa, Edmilson and Joshimar to name a few established themselves in the I-League. A lot of players particularly strikers come from Africa, prominent among them have been Odafa Okolie, Ranti Martins, Yusuf Yakabu and Suley Musah. These players have played a key role in the development of football in India and were undoubtedly key for their sides.

The current rule in I-League makes it mandatory for clubs to have one player of Asian origin in their roaster of 4 foreign players. Players from Australia have tried their luck in India but except Tolgey Ozbey most of the footballers from Down-Under have failed to adjust to Indian conditions properly. Japanese players on the other hand have made a strong impact on the I-League and the number of Japanese players is increasing. Japanese players with their pace and strong dribbling skills have added another dimension to the I-League in addition to the physicality and skills introduced by the players from Brazil and Africa.

Japanese Stars In India

As Dempo prepared for the season, Armando Colcao made Ryuji Sueoka his first target andtestifying the fact that Ryuji Sueoka is one of the best foreign players in the nation currently. While the likes of Odafa and Ranti have hogged the limelight, Sueoka has been quietly doing his bit. An attacking midfielder, Sueoka can also play as a striker and in fact was the leading scorer for Salgaocar in the last season’s I-League and this season is Dempo’s leading scorer. Sueoka has played a big role in Dempo’s campaign this season providing numerous assists and has now become an integral part of Armando’s plan. Sueoka is team player and is extremely hardworking and tireless who drops back to help the defenders when needed.

Arata Izumi who now owns an Indian citizenship is arguably the first successful Japanese player in the I-League, having made his debut for East Bengal in 2006. Arata is an extremely skillful attacking midfielder who has troubled most of the I-League defenders with his  pace and trickery. Arata joined Mahindra United from East-Bengal and from 2009 he has been with Pune FC where he has notched up an impressive 19 goals in 70 matches to become a fan favorite. Playing behind striker, Arata has been the main source of creativity for Pune and has continued to play a big role in key matches.  Arata has inspired Indian players at Pune FC as well and now hopes to begin a coaching stint in India soon.

One of the most under-rated foreign players who has silently made his name in Indian Football is the ONGC midfielder Katsumi Yusa, who has the distinction of playing in both divisions of J-League. Katsumi came to India in winter of 2010 and as ONGC got relegated, Katsumi went un-noticed by a lot of clubs. Katsumi played a key role in ONGC’s revival and continues to link up well with Jatin Singh Bist in the heart of ONGC midfield, providing much needed spark to the team. As ONGC demolished Shillong Lajong 3-0 Katsumi scored a brace to see his side through. Clubs would no doubt be chasing the Japanese next season.

New recruit for Pune FC , Daisuke Nishiguchi was signed from Moldovan club FC Olimpia and the 23 year old attacking midfielder has made a decent start to his I-League career with two goals in the I-League so far. Recommended by Arata Izumi, Daisuke can play as a withdrawn striker as well.

Sporting Club de Goa ‘s latest recruit Japanese striker Seiya Sugishita holds the key to the club’s fortunes . Seiya replaces Bong Bertand in the squad and has already found the back of the net on 3 occasions in the 6 matches he has played this season. Despite being short in height Seiya who has been signed from Saitama FC, a Japanese Regional League side, posses a powerful header and has all the ingredients in him to make it big in I-League.

One of the defining traits of the Japanese players has been their ability to gel with the team members. In comparison with their African counterparts, who are often in news for fallout with the coach or the Indian Players, the Japanese players are known to be well-behaved in this aspect.

I-League Matches

Dempo Kicked off the proceedings in round 12 as they clashed with in-form Pailan Arrows. The champions came into the match with a number of injury worries with Mahesh Gawli, Rohan Ricketts, Anthony Periera and Ryuji Sueoka missing. Koko Sakibo made a return while Selwyn Fernandes and Romeo Fernandes were also picked. A comical error by Arrows custodian Ravi Kumar allowed Joaquim Abranches to score in the 10th minute. Against the run of play Arrows were awarded a penalty when Selwyn Fernandes handed the ball and skipper Milan Singh converted from the spot. Joaquim Abranches scored a brilliant goal in the 60th minute as he shrugged off the defender to slot the ball past Ravi Kumar. This win gives Armando Colaco’s side a much needed boost after they lost 5-1 to Pune FC in the last encounter.

Santosh Kashyap ‘s appointment as the chief coach of ONGC seemed to have worked wonders as the bottom placed institutional side defeated North-East powerhouse Shillong Lajong 3-0 in what was a potential 6 pointer. Eric Brown opened up the scoring for ONGC with C Kenistan providing the assist. Japanese play-maker Yusa Katsumi scored a brace in the second half to put the game beyond the reach of Lajong. With this win ONGC have now moved out of the relegation zone and things look positive for the oilmen in times to come. Eric Brown was awarded the man-of-match award for his performance.

Team of The Round

In the last match of day one, Pune FC played host to Prayag United. Playing without Carlos Hernandez and Bello Rasaq, Prayag looked ordinary  in attack and porous at the back. James Moga continued his fine form and scored the opener in the 8th minute. Pune FC continued to dominate the early stages and Othallo Tabia headed home a Chika Wali cross in the 17th minute to take the home side 2-0 up and the score remained 2-0 at the half time. The second half saw both sides create plethora of chances and Prayag pulled one back through Vineeth in the 51st minute with Lalkamal Bhormick and Douhou Pierre being in the thick of things. James Moga however scored his second from a Douhou Pierre cross  in the 77th minute to put the game beyond the visitors.

Mumbai FC played host to East Bengal in the last match of the round. The first half ended goal-less despite both teams creating an number of chances. Gabriel Fernandes broke the deadlock in the 64th minute against the run of the play to give home-side the lead after an error by  Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. Seeing his team go down, Trevor Morgan made three quick substitutions bringing on Lalrindika Ralte, Robin Singh and Sanju Pradhan to add bite to the attack. Playing in the heart of the Mumbai defense , former Indian International striker Abhishek Yadav had a solid outing, keeping a check on Chidi Edeh. Drama however unfolded in the injury time as Yusuf Yakabu scored Mumbai FC’s second in the 94th minute. Chidi Edeh pulled one back in the 96th minute but it was too late in the end. East-Bengal were wasteful up-front and Trevor Morgan would no doubt be looking to add another striker in the January transfer window while Khalid Jamil and his men will look to continue there excellent run that has seen them move to 5th in the table.