I-league has entered into the business end now and an engaging title race is going on. Since the inception of the league, we have seen both kinds of finishes – teams having a cake walk towards the title and a nail biting finish where multiple teams stand a chance to clinch the title with the last round being the decider. This season is all set to follow the latter path to silence the critics who often tag I-League as boring. With as many as three teams still in with a shout for the title, let us look at the all the remaining games of all the title contenders and all the mind boggling permutations which would make the fans believe that their respective teams can still pull the rabbit out of the hat.
Churchill Brothers SC
The team from Salcette is right at the top of the heap and can end up kissing the silverware as the season draws to a closure. Keeping their AFC Cup loss to Warriors FC at bay, Churchill brothers would be up against their arch rivals and defending champions Dempo in Goa today. Technical director of football at the club, former I-League winner Subhas Bhowmick is confident that his side will deliver the goods without their influential midfielder Beto. Here are the remaining matches for the former champions in the league –
The Red Machines need six points from their last six games to bag their second I-League title. But there is a catch. Churchill plays two out of those four matches against Mohun Bagan- a team which is topping the table if only the last six matches are to be considered. With relegation sword hanging on their head, Mohun Bagan will not be taking any game easily. On top of this, Churchill has these two matches sandwiched between two very crucial AFC Cup matches. This scenario makes today’s match ever more crucial for the Goans. Ideally, a win over the reigning champions would be more apt to take them a step closer to the coveted title.
Dempo are in the middle of the worst slump in the league since its inception. But taking Dempo as an easy opponent would be last mistake manager Mariano Dias would advocate to his team. A slump in this match would really pile up the pressure before the Mohun Bagan double header.
East Bengal FC
East Bengal has no one else but themselves to blame for the situation the club finds itself currently. Once again there is a huge probability that a non Kolkata based team will bag all the honors and move away with the title. East Bengal has failed to replicate their scintillating performances in the AFC Cup in the I-League. Trevor Morgan coached side has drawn their last four matches, which now sees the Kolkata side placed at the second spot, five points adrift from the table toppers, Churchill.
The Lal-Holud Brigade needs help in order to win their maiden I-League this season, help from none other than arch-rivals Mohun Bagan. Any chance East Bengal has to clinch it, depends on how Mohun Bagan fares against Churchill Brothers and also depend on another slip up from Churchill. Purists would counter this speculation that once it is out of your hands, there is a very minimal chance that the unthinkable happens, but this should not stop East Bengal to give their 100% in their remaining matches, after doing so well in the AFC Cup.
East Bengal has Dempo next, which would be a vital tie and any slip ups in this match in Goa, would mean end of the story for the Kolkata side. If other results fall in their favor, then East Bengal has relatively two easy ties against Shillong and United Sikkim – both struggling at the moment. With club captain Mehtab Hossain back from injury, this could all bubble up to cater an exciting finish.
The Red Lizards stand an outside chance to come from nowhere and take their maiden title as well. Derrick Pereira’s side moved up to the third spot after inflicting the first home defeat in six months on ONGC in the last round. Pune has been consistent throughout the season and will be hoping to finish strongly. A second place finish will be the club’s best performance in the I-league so far.
With three relatively easy matches in their plate, winning all can keep their wild hopes of the title alive, of course depending on a lot of results falling in their favor. If not the title, a podium finish is certainly on the cards for the boys from Maharashtra. With Prayag United hot on their heels, any slip up now could cost the side dearly.
With three teams citing their fortunes, the match between Churchill and Dempo will be attracting a lot of eyeballs from Kolkata and Pune especially. If things mix up well, the fans could be in for an exciting ride during the final rounds.