The sixth edition of I-League is poised at a very interesting stage with the teams having their own aims and plans before the eventual champion is crowned in May. Round twenty three was played out on past weekend and it was observed that the unwanted practice of time wasting is creeping into the teams participating in I-league.
Mumbai FC has been criticized all season for their on-field antics which has led to opponents complaining about time wasting, especially as the game moves towards closure. In the last round match against their local rivals – Air India, the yellow brigade was once again noticed for all the wrong reasons as the Khalid Jamil mentored side left no stone unturned to run the clock down. They made a meal of any tackle, took time in leaving the pitch and then returned early after receiving the apt medical attention. The goalkeeper also took his own sweet time to take goal kicks. Indian football fans have seen this unsolicited behavior catching up with other teams as well, like Churchill Brothers, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal. It is time that I-League referees start booking players trying to implement such cheap tactics.
Last week, the same thing happened when Mohun Bagan played Dempo at Salt Lake stadium. Desperate for all three points, Mohun Bagan took a “by hook or by crook” approach in final few minutes as ‘keeper Shilton Pal feigned injury towards the end. Armando Colaco was visibly irate with this tactic though Mohun Bagan fans would claim that the weather conditions at 2 PM in afternoon played a bigger part in delaying things. Champions elect Churchill Brothers did the same thing in their potentially title deciding encounter against Pune FC in last round. The Red Machines eked out a narrow win but this match was also marred by time wasting. A section of the crowd in Pune even ended up jeering Churchill Brothers custodian Sandip Nandy for his time wasting antics.
It is undeniable that time wasting is an integral part of modern football and Indian clubs are not exempt for it. For high stakes such as Churchill Brothers’ title winning aspirations or Mohun Bagan’s bid to avoid relegation, it is only natural that respective clubs will take any measure necessary to get a result. However, it must also be noted that such practices will not help to package Indian football to fans as matches tend to be dull and ugly because of such tactics. Neutrals, as it is, are not attracted to Indian football and seeing such shenanigans from players will not draw more crowds to grounds.
Mumbai FC eventually won the match and claimed the bragging rights in the Mumbai Derby. Club Captain Amiri opened the scoring as Gabriel Fernandes notched up three assists. Mumbai FC won their eighth match of the season and are slotted at sixth position, well clear of relegation zone. Rest of the games remaining for the coastal side are all away from home and Jamil’s team has a reputation of finishing strongly in last few seasons. No doubt fans would be keeping a vigilant eye on the performances of the Mumbai team, but it is yet to be seen whether the performance hogs the limelight or the undesirable tactics raises the eyebrows again. Air India now stands dangerously close to the drop zone and with Mohun Bagan oiling their engine well; it is time that Air India start hoarding whatever points possible. In all likelihood, though, the Air men will not be allowed to participate in next year’s I-League so motivation might be another issue.
Mohun Bagan climbed from the bottom of the table for the first time after coming back into league post the derby fiasco. Karim Bencharifa was left with all smiles as his side put in a solid performance humbling Sporting Club in their own backyard. Club Captain Odafa and Tolgay Ozbey were both among goals with the latter scoring the brace along with Odafa’s hat trick. Mohun Bagan is now one place above the rock bottom and with more games in hand than others. Things look very bright for the Kolkata giants given their current form as they haven’t lost in I-league since January. Sporting Club’s unbeaten streak was halted by the rampaging Mohun Bagan in Goa and coach Oscar Bruzon would be hoping that his team comes back in style after this defeat. SCG are currently slotted at the eighth spot in table.
The quickest climbers in the league table since the second leg started- Salgaocar SC has the turned the tide with four wins and a draw in their last six games. Under the mentorship of Brit David Booth Salgaocar has only let in three goals – that too in a single game. The side from Vasco has made its way up to the ninth spot in the table. Club Captain Luciano Sabrosa volleyed in the solitary goal to clinch all three points in Goa against IFA Shield champions Prayag United. The purple brigade slipped to the fourth spot and has everything to fight for a podium finish. Salgaocar next play United Sikkim and Prayag welcome the unpredictable Pailan Arrows.
Dempo SC registered their fifth straight loss and their eighth of the season as they were humbled by the Pailan Arrows in their own backyard. Amidst all the speculations regarding Armando Colaco’s future at the club, Dempo are in the middle of one of the worst I-League streaks since the league’s inception. Defending champions have let in mammoth 12 goals in their last seven games, garnering only two points. The Panjim side is now slotted at the fifth spot and is unlikely to retaining their title.
Arthur Pappas has everything to smile about when his side takes on Prayag in their next round, especially after his young side showcased a scintillating performance of passing and counter attacking football against Dempo. Pailan move to tenth after recording their sixth win of an otherwise disappointing season. Coach Pappas surely would be planning to end his tenure on high for sure. It is left to be seen whether his lads perform with the same zeal in the remaining matches.
Churchill Brothers were finally successful in widening the gap between them and East Bengal as the side from Salcette looks on course for their second title. Indian Captain Sunil Chettri was on the mark for the Red Machines as they got the better of the Red Lizards. The Red Machines are now five points clear at the top with Pune FC in the third spot, facing tough competition from Dempo and Prayag for a podium finish.
Santosh Kashyap’s side has been nothing short of a revelation since he took over the helm at ONGC. The Oilmen drew their round twenty-three match away at Shillong, which is never an easy place to garner points. As much impressive the results may look for the Mumbai side, the matter of the fact is that ONGC strikers have been guilty of muffing up many chances in front of the goal, and similar story repeated in Shillong. ONGC will be aiming a top half finish after a derailed season was handed pretty efficiently by the whole squad and the coach.