This season’s I-League has had more ups and downs than a roller coaster ride and with one of the oldest clubs in the history of Indian football, Mohun Bagan being slapped a two year ban, things don’t seem too rosy for India’s top tier competition. The I-League is now a 13 team affair this season and with 13 rounds been played, the I-League has reached its half way mark, or as you call in football, its half time in India’s top tier competition. With a good part of the season done and dusted, TheHardTackle takes a look at the big losers, big winners, the rest of the pack and our pick for the best Indian 11 in the league so far.
The season didn’t started brightly for the team from Pune, then went down, but they have certainly picked up a great deal from there and easily go down as the biggest winners half way down the season, sitting at the second spot in the table, three points adrift of the table toppers Dempo with a game in hand. Pune were expected to be in the mix with one of the most balanced side at their disposal, but after a particularly bright start, things went haywire for the Pune side, losing two on the trot, but they came back well to get their season rollicking again with impressive wins over tough opponents.
Pune would be ruing the fact that they should have won a couple of games, which they went on to draw. The game against United Sikkim is certainly one and the other is the game against Mohun Bagan, where they allowed to let slip, their two goal advantage, but with the Mariners fixtures set to be declared null and void, Pune would not mind the result. The highlight for Pune this season has been an impressive 5-1 thumping of defending champions and table toppers Dempo SC.
The best thing for Pune is their non-reliance on a particular player and it is more about the pool of players or the team for them. The pick of the players for Pune have been their captain Dohou Pierre, defenders Gurjinder Kumar and Othello Tabia , wingers Karma Tsewang and the loan signing from East Bengal Khanthang Paite and forward James Moga. Even the Japanese turned Indian has nicked in with some crucial goals.The biggest disappointment for the club has been their under-performing star Indian player Jeje Lalpekhlua. Pune with 26 points from 12 games, their game against Air India being deferred due to the sad demise of Bal Thackeray, certainly are our pick for the biggest winners.
The team from Goa got off to a fairy-tale start and appeared the Goans are well on their way to a record fifth, but their dip in form off-late has opened the doors for the teams to catch up. Though, Dempo sit pretty on top, the Goan side are just three points ahead the team placed second with a game in hand and lead the third team in the table, Churchill Brothers by just four points, with the fellow Goan side having two games in hand.
Dempo were marred with controversy when Lawrence was handed a two match ban for an assault on the referee and the Dempo coach Colaco show-caused for hitting the field of play, protesting against the referee’s decision. Probably, these off-field affairs disturbed the mindset of the players and the coach and a dip in the performance was evident. Dempo has lost only two games to date against a lowly ONGC side and a thumping 5-1 loss at the hands of the closest team in the pack Pune FC, while they drew two other games, winning the rest. Given Pune are closely following them, the loss would have hurt even more.
Dempo had to do with the loss of their prolific goalscorer Ranti Martins, but his replacement, though, not an ideal one has stepped up to the plate for the Goan side and scored some crucial goals. His strike partner Joaquim Abranches has also been a good foil. Midfielder Peter Carvalho has risen to the occasion and has played well in the middle of the park, but the find of the season for Dempo has been Romoeo Fernandes, who seems to be a great raw young talent, only to be nurtured
The other Goan side got off to a rugged start, but have turned the tables quick and sit third in the table with two games in hand and just four points, the difference. Churchill’s highlight of the season has been the 8-4 drubbing of Sporting Club and the 5-0 walk in the park over the oilmen. Their surge was led by their captain Beto and two new foreign recruits, Bilal Najjarine and Akram Moghrabi. The Indians in Lenny Rodrigues and the unsung Bineesh Balan have also been impressive.
Though, the colts are not in the hunt for the title, but given they finished a low 13th in the last edition of the tournament, being 7th in addition to some impressive performances count for them being the winners to date, this season. It has been a spirited show from the players touted to be India’s future and their impressive performances include victories over ONGC and Sporting Club. Shouvik Ghosh has been impressive in the heart of defense while the one he replaced, Milan Singh has held things in the middle of the park, but the brightest sparks or Brahmastra in the armory for the Arrows is the attacking duo of Alwyn George and Holicharan Narzary.
Under Khalid Jamil, Mumbai FC have been impressive throughout. Though, they lost the initial games, but their performances were encouraging and as they say- keep working, don’t have greed for the result; this is what exactly the Mumbai based side did and results started to come through. From being in the drop zone at one time, the current table reads Mumbai at 5th position, above the likes of Prayag United, Sporting Club and Salgaocar.Nicholas Rodrigues, Haroon Amiri, Evans Quao and Yakubu have been impressive for the Mumbai outfit.
The Kolkatan giants Mohun Bagan had an awful start to the season, which led to the change in guard, which saw Bencherifa making a return to his old club after Santosh Kashyap was forced to resign. But, unfortunately for the Mariners, the Morrocan couldn’t change the fortunes of their side and the derby incident turned out to be the final nail in the coffin.With Bagan refusing to take the field in the violence-ridden derby against arch rivals East Bengal on 9th December at the Salt Lake Stadium, the AIFF took stern action and sent the Kolkata club on a two year exile. Going by the decision as of now, with no football and a possibility of star players heading elsewhere, the Kolkata club comes out as the biggest losers.
Prayag United were the biggest spenders in the summer snatching Ranti Martins from the Dempo camp and drafting in the former Costa Rican World Cupper, Carlos Hernandez. Having splashed the cash, the owners must have been expecting to be top of the table or atleast be in the mix, but with the performance off-late, the big spenders seem flattering to deceive, if they are considered serious title contenders. If their performance earlier was trough, the performance off-late has been crest, losing games to Churchill, Mumbai and most recently, Sporting Club.
The biggest problem with the big spenders is their over-reliance on a couple of foreign recruits and in a tournament as big as the I-League, it becomes difficult to keep up with the pace in such cases. Though, Prayag notched up the biggest win of the season, a 10-1 demolition of United Sikkim, but the Kolkata club have been disappointing overall, uptill now. Being touted as one of the favorites for the title and ending up 6th midway through the season, you got to consider them as losers and one of the biggest of them all.
Getting your first win of the season in the 13th round of the league speaks it all. Though, Salgaocar was impressive in the last game, defeating the airmen 4-0, but their season so far has been nothing less than disastrous, which finds them lying 11th in the table, in comparison to a 6th place finish last season. Though, there is a fir way to go in the league still, but Salgaocar needs to really pull up their socks and perform the way they did last week, week in and week out to have any chance of finishing in the top half.
Augustin Fernandes has been the pick of the Salgaocar players, while Francis Fernandes has done reasonably well too.
Hanging in the Balance
After a wonderful start, staying afloat, at the top of the table and having given away a solitary goal in 9 rounds of the I-league, two losses on the trot have cost them dear. From the Biggest winners to hanging in the balance, a story of the Kolkatan outfit over the last two weeks, prior to the recent one, where they were back on track with a 3-0 win over the colts, Pailan Arrows. Uga Okpara has been a rock at the back, with good support from Arnab Mondal. Youngsters Thokcham Naoba Singh and Harmanjot Khabra have done well this season and Edeh Chidi has led the lines well, with great support from fellow countryman Penn Orji. Lalrindika Ralte looks to be a bright young talent, looking to burst onto the scene shortly.
With youngsters in their side and a philosophy of nurturing talent under practice, the North-East club would settle for anything that keeps them afloat in the top tier competition and currently eighth in the table, Lajong would be more happy than disappointed. The North Korean recruit Minchol Son has been a revelation for the Shillong outfit and with five man of the match awards to his credit, he undoubtedly is one of the most impressive players thus far, this season.
Rest of the pack
The rest of the sides Sporting Club, Air India, ONGC and United Sikkim would neither be too happy or be too disappointed with the proceedings so far, but probably a tinge of disappointment might rule the roost for the sides. For Sporting Club, Ogba Kalu and Dawson Fernandes have been the good performers, while Air India’s star man has been Pradeep Mohanraj and the striker Ezeh Henry.
United Sikkim has found good young talent in Sandesh Jhingan and goal keeper Yoon Tae. The oilmen on the other end would be really ecstatic about the pairing in front of goal on either side, with a sparkling attacking duo of Eric Brown and Katsumi Yusa, in addition to the gritty defensive pairing of Robin Gurung and Hassan Odeola.
Mid-season Indian I-League XI
I-League was started with the aim of nurturing top Indian talent and taking Indian football forward. Every season brings with it some really fine talents to the disposal of the Indian National team, in addition to fine tuning the ones already a part of it.
TheHardTackle look at the best Indian 11 midway into the season:
Dempo goalie Subasish Rowchowdhury has put in an excellent shift between the sticks with great consistency. We have had a couple of young Indian defenders guarding their lines really well, the young ONGC defender Robing Gurung and Pailan player Shouvik Ghosh have really done well. The veteran Arnab Mondal has formed the best central defense pairing with Uga Okpara.
The midfield is led by the Nicholas Rodrigues, Clifford Miranda operating on the right and left wing respectively with Harmanjot Khabra and Peter Carvalho patrolling the middle of the park. All have been doing considerably well in initiating moves, notching up assists and even score important goals for their sides.
In an aggressive lineup the three men upfront are Joaquim Abranches, Bineesh Balan and the brightest young talent Holicharan Narzary, what makes a dreaded trio, with Abranches having five goals to show for his efforts and the other two having four goals to the good.