Dempo SC is running out of character in their quest to defend their I-League crown. Dempo SC has already played 21 matches this season, but has just 10 wins under their belt. A far cry from their 18 and 16 wins in their last two successful campaigns. After their 6th defeat of the current campaign, it looks likely that they will surrender their I-League crown for the third time in a row. Dempo SC has won the I-League title in alternate years (2007-08, 2009-10, 2011-12) and the trend is all set to repeat as it looks unlikely that they will defend their crown this time around also.
In the Inaugural edition of I-League in 2007-08, Dempo SC edged out Churchill Brothers on Goal difference after finishing level on terms with 36 points. It was one of those intriguing battles and the NFL champions in 2005 and 2007 held their nerves to claim the inaugural I-League edition. The next season presented Dempo to clinch hat-trick wins in terms of National championship and also provided them with the opportunity of becoming the first team to defend the I-League title. But Dempo SC failed in their quest to defend I-League title and finished the campaign in 4th place 15 points behind the eventual champions Churchill Brothers. Dempo’s title defence failed miserably as they failed to replicate the performance of last year and the casual approach from the defending champions cost them in their title defence.
Finishing way off the top spot had its reactions in the Dempo squad next season and they came back with venom and purpose to outsmart their opponents to regain the I-League title with 54 points in their kitty in a 14 team affair. Then defending champions Churchill Brothers fell of the radar and finished in second place 11 points behind the champions. Dempo SC learned from their mistakes and came back stronger and sharper to lift the title while the defending champions Churchill Brothers fell off the radar. 2010-11 season presented Dempo their second shot to defend the I-League title, but similar to the previous seasons defending champions failed to defend their title and another Goan team lifted the prestigious I-League crown. That season belonged to Salgoacar SC and Karim Bencharifa while Dempo SC finished in 3rd spot 6 points behind the I-League champions.
Dempo SC were rejuvenated once again in 2011-12 to lift their third I-League title in 5 years and throughout these years Ranti Martins was the flag bearer of the Goan powerhouses. Once again Ranti Martins finished as the top scorer, this time with 32 goals which is more than 50% of the goals scored by Dempo SC in I-League. Some drama occurred after Dempo’s third triumph, and soon Ranti Martins left to join big money spenders Prayag United in a record breaking move and Dempo is yet to replace their talismanic striker till now. Dempo’s refusal to play outside Goa meant that they didn’t participate in AFC Cup this season and their rivals Churchill Brothers grabbed this opening with both hands and are currently enjoying a fine season and are the favourites for the I-League title.
This season hasn’t been far from ideal for Dempo SC. Much anticipated Rohan Ricketts move to Dempo failed in more than one way. He was supposed to lead their team from front and his superior pedigree was something which the Indian Football faithful thought will more than make up for Ranti Martins loss. But in reality this move not only helped Dempo in their pursuits but also it created a problematic atmosphere in the dressing room and behind the scenes. The man who was supposed to carry their dreams ended up as a nightmare, the dressing room atmosphere and morale worsened to wreck Dempo SC’s campaign.
Churchill Brothers title run is aided by the presence of Beto, Roberto Silva, Belal and Akram as their foreign contingent, even though the latter two departed in winter break they played a crucial role during the run-in. East Bengal’s title challenge is well aided by Chidi Edeh, Penn Orji, Uga Okpara and winter signing Andrew Barisic. Pune FC is another leading contender for the prestigious I-League title and their case is aided by the presence of Pierre Douhou, James Moga and Chika Wali while Prayag United is bolstered by the foreign presence of Ranti Martins, Carlos Hernandez and Bello Rasaq. When all their immediate challengers have quality foreigners in their rank who are putting in top notch performances week in and out Dempo SC is let down by the lack of quality foreign players. Only time will tell whether Dempo will pay the price for their foreign quality, but as the season progresses it is evident that this area has hindered their growth.
Dempo has been hampered not just by this foreign player situations. Armando Colaco has lost his magical touch while captain Climax Lawrence is set to enter the history books. The team spirit is missing, so is the never say die attitude in their ranks. The squad has lost its sheen while the coach has lost the inspiration while his exit rumours aren’t helping the teams cause as well.
This rounds results saw yet another defeat for Dempo SC. Pune FC for the second time this season scripted a comprehensive win over I-League champions Dempo SC and this time the scoreline read 2-0 in favor of the hosts unlike the mauling suffered at the reverse fixture. Goals from Sukhwinder Singh and James Moga were enough to secure 3 points and this win puts them in 3rd spot 7 points adrift the I-League leaders with a game in hand.
Pune FC have now beaten them comprehensively both in home and away conditions as Dempo SC is chasing shadows at the moment. Is the title defense over? With just 5 games to go Churchill Brothers has a 9 point advantage over the I-League champions. It needs miracle for the goans to edge out Churchill Brothers, East Bengal, Pune FC and Prayag United in one go as the defending champions are currently lying at 5th spot and way off from their target.
Other I-League Matches
United Sikkim was looking for some magic to escape from the dreaded relegation and they produced one against fellow relegation candidates Air India when it mattered. A comprehensive 5 – 0 win was the best thing Baichung Bhutia could have hoped for and his team presented him the magic to steady the ship in a desperate attempt. A double from Nuruddin Salau and contributions from Pablo Aracil, John Matkin and T Bhutia presented the north eastern side with their biggest win in I-League.
Churchill Brothers squandered another to chance to secure 3 points and to pull away from the chasing pack as they had to settle for a goalless draw with rivals Salgaocar. Churchill Brothers last outing was also a draw and this run of games is proving out to be a stumbling block for the league leaders in their pursuit to lift their second I-League title. The longer the drama continues the interesting the battle will become, new teams will enter the fray and the mix will get more complicated as well. This weekends other results has produced a fine twist for Pune FC at the expense of Dempo as well. while seeing the other results Churchill Brothers will evaluate it as two points dropped in a goan derby.
Another match in this round’s I-League fixture produced another draw as Shillong Lajong held Mohun Bagan to yet another draw to keep them deep in the relegation mix. It was a dramatic season for Mohun Bagan so far and the drama continued in Kolkata when Shillong Lajong came from behind twice to earn a valuable point at mariners place. Mohun Bagan tried to get three points via goals from Tolgey Ozbey and Manish Maithani but it was in vain as the north eastern side restored parity via Boithang Haokip and substitute Lalhumthara.
Sporting Club De Goa’s spectacular winning run in new year lasted 5 games as ONGC held them to a 1-1 draw in Goa. Dawson Fernandez 20th minute strike put Sporting in a healthy position to record their 6th consecutive victory before Samanda Singh’s sending off tilted the balance. Hassan Adeola made full use of ONGC’s numerical advantage to grab an equalizer in the last quarter and ONGC kept them in bay to come away with a rare away point. There was more drama to unfold as a late winner was ruled out by an offside flag ending the game in parity.
East Bengal hoped to reduce the deficit at top by cashing in other opponents inability to gather maximum points, but they suffered the same fate as they were held to a draw after an inspired come back from Prayag United in second half. East Bengal raced to a 0 – 2 lead thanks to goals from Edeh Chidi and Manandeep Singh, but things didn’t go in their favour afterwards as Carlos Hernandez and Ranti Martins goals were enough to secure a point for Prayag United. This will be considered as East Bengal’s failure to reduce the gap at the top of I-League table but Prayag United will savour this point which helped them to climb above Dempo SC.
In a round of drawn matches Mumbai FC and Pailan Arrows followed the trend as the points were shared after 90 minutes. Things were not that simple on the pitch as both teams scored from the penalty spot via Milan Singh and Yusif Yakubu. The match was pretty unimpressive apart from the penalties and Goal mouth action were few and far between. Fittingly the match ended in a 1-1 draw and the result justified the performance as well.