This season’s I-League is blessed with an uncertainty which keeps the spectators guessing in each round of fixtures. New entrants Bengaluru FC has forged ahead into the top of the table and they are visiting defending champions Churchill Brothers who are uncharacteristically lying at the bottom of the table. THT previews this round of fixtures in which the Indian Football lovers are eagerly waiting for the Maharashtra Derby in Pune.
Maharashtra Derby – Pune FC v Mumbai FC
Maharashtra derby may not have an everlasting history as Pune FC came into existence only in 2007. But the kind of progress they have achieved over the years is commendable and without a shadow of doubt the future of Indian Football should revolve around the professional club. The Piramal group owned team has brought in a breath of fresh air into Indian Football, and they are currently one of the pace setters in I-League as well. On and off the pitch, Pune FC are a step ahead of other football clubs which includes the historical Kolkata clubs. The new power shift in Indian Football has not only put the limelight on Pune but also has taken away the spot light from fellow Maharashtra club Mumbai FC as well. Bragging rights are very important for the fans when it comes to football and that is what both Pune supporters and Mumbai supporters will be looking for when they lock horns against each other at the Balewadi Sports Complex.
Pune supporters will be counting their money on the likes of Mustapha Riga, Dohou Pierre, James Meyer, Calum Agnus, Anas Edathodica and Arata Izumi. The progress of academy products Nikhil Kadam and Amrinder Singh is another big positive for the home team ahead of their battle for prestige. Mike Snoei has adapted to Indian Football easily and will be aiming for the top spot which is just two points away from his grasp at the moment. Mumbai FC on the other hand has made their own reputation under Indian Football’s youngest top flight coach in Khalid Jamil. Even though time wasting, play acting and British football style can be defaulted to the Mumbaikars, they are earning a living on their own. Other I-League teams do not fancy a battle against Mumbai FC as they know it’s a tough ask especially with the return of evergreen Yusif Yakubu. Aghanistani contingent Haroon Amiri, Sandjar Ahamdi and Ahmed Hatife are also key contributors in Khalid Jamil’s teams cause. The addition of IMG-R’s Indian Internationals N P Pradeep and Mohammad Rafi has strengthened the balance of the team with the likes of Nicholas Rodriguez and Anwar Ali already playing vital roles. Who will have the last laugh in Maharashtra Derby, the Red Lizards or the rough and tough Mumbaikars?
Can Karim Bencharifa last the battle?
The uncertainty in each of the results in I-League has made the life difficult for the fans as well as the managers. Their positions aren’t safe anymore and they cannot count on easy points to establish a firm grip on their chair as well. Few top tacticians have already lost their empire while some are hanging on to it with the hope of change in fortunes. At the moment, Mohun Bagan coach Karim Bencharifa appears to be at the forefront of this battle. His side is finding to difficult to make a way into the opposition net with their star striker Odafa Okolie searching for his scoring boots after regaining fitness. Mohun Bagan fans are dissatisfied with the results and the pressure is mounting on the Moroccan and his wards to deliver the goods. Club officials are also under immense scrutiny and are looking for scapegoats to cling on to their chairs. Eric Muranda has already made way for Christopher already while Adil Khan, Wahid Sali etc. are rumoured to pay the price soon as well.
The battle against high flying United SC is considered to be a last grasp option for Karim Bencharifa. Can he weave his magic to upset the top team from Kolkata at the moment? Karim has the problem of plenty at the back. Shilton Pal, Aiborlong Khongjee, Celstine Echezona, Kingshuk Debnath, Pritam Kotal, Shouvik Ghosh, Wahid Sali and Rowilson Rodriguez have produced the goods most of the times when he needed their service. But his midfield and strike force have failed to deliver the goods and are looking very thin at the moment as well. The injury to M P Zakeer took out the creative attacking threat of Mohun Bagan and all his replacements have failed to fulfil the void so far. Katsumi Yusa has shown his flashes of brilliance on some occasions while on others he doesn’t seem to be interested in team’s cause. C S Sabeeth has been wasted in wide midfield areas while youngster Ram Mullick is easily out-muscled by the opposition. Why the coach seems to persist on a misfiring Odafa is a million dollar question, especially when the striker keeps on putting the blame to other players on the pitch for his failures. Can Karim Bencharifa regroup his wards to last his battle?
New look Rangdajied United looking to upset Kolkata again.
Rangdajied United registered their first win in I-League when they got the better of Mohun Bagan in the last round. They did that in Kolkata undoubtedly the mecca of Indian Football, even though the Goan sides have scripted a supremacy in the last few years. One more year without the crown will be too much to bear for the impatient Kolkata crowd. While Mohun Bagan are out of the equation already, their arch rivals East Bengal are also slowly losing the battle field. In a must win situation to reclaim it’s lost glory, East Bengal will be looking to get back to the race with a win in Shillong. In the absence of injured Mehtab Hussain, vice Captain Harmanjot Khabra will be leading the side with the aim of adding 3 points to their tally. The addition of IMG-R players to Rangdajied United squad, especially an inform striker Manandeep Singh and spider man Subrata Pal has increased their quality on the field and Santhosh Kashyap’s men will be looking to upset the people in Kolkata once again within a week’s time.
Can Sporting Club add on to Dempo’s miseries?
Dempo SC is struggling at the moment to cope with the demands of I-League with injuries in the defensive department making their life more miserable. Even though the performance of youngsters in the Dempo line-up augurs well for the future, they need results to keep their ship afloat. Young left back Narayan Das is showing plenty of signs that he is ready to solve one of the problematic positions in Indian football. But their tactician has many headaches which spans across all positions on the pitch. Right back Debabatra Roy was seen as a stopper last time, while winger Clifford Miranda was seen in the middle of the park along with young Pronoy Haldar. Beto the lone foreigner to start last game, limped off the field within 15 mintues as the Injuries has taken a toll on the most successful I-League team. Sporting Club de Goa on the other hand are rewriting their record books with Oscar Bruzon leading the side into greater heights one after the other. The newly crowned Goa Football League champions outclassed I-League leaders Salgaocar SC in the last round and will be looking to add Dempo’s name to their casualties list at the end of this round. Their passing game and intensive pressing tactics are proving out to be handful for the other I-League teams. Will they prove out to be quite handful for Dempo’s young guns as well?
Bottom Team takes on Pace setters to regain lost plot
Churchill Brothers started I-League 13-14 season as the defending champions whereas Bengaluru FC were the new boys in the big pool. The unpredictability of this league has given the viewers a sight which won’t be common sight in any of the leagues across the world. Champions are currently languishing at the bottom while the new boys are the pace setters in the I-League. Did anybody predict this at the start of the season? Will it be the same at the end of the season? These are questions which can bamboozle the football pundits across the subcontinent. At the moment the onus is on Churchill Brothers to regain some lost plot when they host Bengaluru FC at Goa. Will they be able to upset the odds? Or the gap is going to increase between the top and bottom remains to be seen at the end of this round’s fixtures.
Churchill Brothers V Bengaluru FC, December 6, 3.30 PM
Shillong Lajong FC V Salgaocar FC, December 6, 3.30 PM
Mohun Bagan AC V United SC, December 6, 5.30 PM
Rangdajied United FC V East Bengal, December 7, 3.30 PM
Sporting Club De Goa V Dempo SC, December 7, 3.30 PM
Pune FC v Mumbai FC, December 7, 6.00 PM