I-League 2012/13 season brought to forth many facets of Indian Football, both positive and negative. Overall it was a thrilling season with fair share of goals, misses, controversies and drama. I-League this season, in many ways, caught the attention of fans and media. In the end it was Churchill Brothers who clinched the top spot followed by Pune FC and East-Bengal in a dramatic run-up to the finale. On the other end of the table it was Air-India and United Sikkim who finished in the bottom-two and will get relegated. We look at various facets of I-League this season – The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.
The 2012/13 season will be remembered for the influx of quality foreign players. Carlos Hernandez , who played for Costa Rica in the 2006 FIFA World Cup was roped in by Prayag and showed his quality with some quality free-kicks and through balls, helping Prayag lift IFA Shield. Shillong Lajong’s Edinho Junior, on loan from Blackburn, has been selected to represent Portugal in the U-19 FIFA World Cup. Junior scored a brace on his debut and played his part in helping Lajong save relegation. Spanish defender Angel Berlanga roped in by Sporting in the transfer season brought with him the experience of playing in Club World Cup and helped stabilize the Sporting defense. Lebanese duo of Akram Moghrabi and Bilal Najjarine played an invaluable role in Churchill’s triumph.
The season saw Pune FC rise from the dark-horses tag to become the title contenders, giving the Goa and Kolkata based clubs a run for their money. Long term vision, Youth Development and proper infrastructure means that Pune FC is a role model for the other I-League clubs. The club manged to stay away from controversies and offers fan an alternative to traditional powerhouses – Goa and Bengal. Pune FC finished second and with the appointment of Mike Sonei as the head coach next season , things look bright for the Red Lizards.
The success of Churchill Brothers and Pune FC has shown how spending the money wisely is more effective than spending money on bringing big names. Despite a modest budget as compared to the Kolkata trio of East-Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Prayag United, both the clubs achieved better results thanks to proper selection of players. Even mid-table teams like ONGC, Mumbai FC and Sporting Club de Goa showed how proper planning can get desired results.
Much was expected from United Sikkim after their promotion last year but Baichung Bhutia’s co-owned club had an I-League debut to forget. Improper planning, frequent change of personnel and inexperienced foreigners and Indian players meant that the Snow Lions were embarrassed on numerous occasions, losing 10-1 to Prayag, 9-0 to Salgaocar and 6-0 to Churchill Brothers. The team managed to win only 2 matches and were a major disappointment this season.
Refereeing continued to come under the scanner time and again with a lot of dubious penalties being awarded and a number of genuine appeals getting rejected. Even the off-sides are not spotted and the wrong decisions left the coaches and players furious. Playing 5-8 minutes of additional time after the 90 minutes was another controversial thing on the part of referees and often resulted in last gasp winners.
Time Wasting was an unnecessary evil that crept into I-League this season with Mumbai FC getting notoriously famous for it. Playing against Mohun Bagan, Mumbai FC coach Khaild Jamil has heard shouting ‘Gir Ja’ to his players in order to run down the clock. Even the top teams were seen adopting this approach with Mohun Bagan goalkeeper Shilton Pal faking an injury in the second half against Dempo and Sandip Nandy doing the same in a potential title-deciding clash against Pune FC. Sporting club de Goa players were also accused of using this tactic.
The 2.30 kick-off of matches which saw water-breaks at the end of 22.5 minutes was a disgrace for I-League. The afternoon kickoff took a toll on the players and the officials and the matches were often slow paced and boring. Pailan Arrows player Prabir Das suffered a heat stroke while playing in an afternoon kick-off and had to be rushed to the hospital.
The much-anticipated Kolkata derby between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal took a violent turn when Syed Rahim Nabi was hit by a missile in the first half following which he had to be rushed to the hospital for a surgery on his jaw. The supporters of both side continued to clash even after Bagan decided not to play after the half-time. Despite being a world known phenomena, the incident left a scar on Indian Football.
Riding on a Ranti Martins brace, Prayag United defeated ONGC 3-1 to finish fourth in the table. In a match which had plenty of goal-bound action, Martins scored from the spot in the 29th minute after Kayne Vincent was fouled in the box. Ranti added the second just before the half-time before Vincent scored the third around hour mark. Eric Brown was ONGC’s best player on the field and had it not been for some excellent goal-keeping by Subrata Paul, Brown could have scored a brace. Lalmuanpuia scored a consolation goal in the 70th minute as ONGC finished a creditable 9th in the table
Pune FC defeated Pailan Arrows 2-0 to clinch the second spot – their best ever showing in I-League. Goals from James Moga in the 35th minute and Boima Karpeh in the 65th minute were enough for the hosts who completely dominated the match. Arrows might have finished 12th but Arthur Papas has indeed unearthed a few young talents in Indian Football – a fact which matters more than their standing.
Sporting Club de Goa were denied a well-deserved win by Mumbai FC at Goa when John Coutinho equalized late in the injury time. Yusif Yakubu converted from the spot in the 35th minute to give Khalid Jamil’ s side the lead which remained till the half time. Dawson Fernandes equalized the scores in the 53rd minute with Joseph Clement grabbing the assist. Dawson then provided a through ball for Victorino Fernandes who scored in the 75th minute. John Coutinho however equalized in the injury time as Mumbai FC drew level and finished 8th in the league. The Flaming Oranje finished at the sixth spot after a disappointing start.
Mohun Bagan rounded off their I-League campaign in style by routing United Sikkim 3-0 thanks to goals from Nirmal Chettri, Odafa Okolie and Tolgay Ozbey. After having been docked off all their points following their actions in the Kolkata derby, it was a remarkable comeback by Mohun Bagan, orchestrated to perfection by Karim Bencherifa. Bagan finished 10th while for United Sikkim the lesser we talk , the better it is. Baichung Bhutia’ s team was arguably the worst team ever to play in I-League and finished rock-bottom.
With all eyes on their AFC Pre-Quaterfinal match on Wednesday, Trevor Morgan fielded an almost second string side against Shillong Lajong who managed to shock the Federation Cup champions 1-0 courtesy a goal from Japanese striker Taisuke Matsugae. Though Morgan introduced Chidi, Penn and Barisic late in the game, Lajong held on to their lead. Shillong Lajong finished 11th while East-Bengal had to be content with a third place finish.
Dempo and Salgaocar – two teams with contrasting fortunes , squared off in Goa. Salgaocar staged an amazing comeback in the second half of the season after a dismal start while for Dempo it was the opposite case as the defending champions failed to carry on their momentum in the second half. In the match it was Gabriel Obatola who gave Salgaocar the lead in the 15th minute while Ryuji Sueoka equalized from the spot in the 20th minute. Anthony Pereira scored a late winner to give Armando Colaco’s side a win. Dempo clinched the fifth spot while Salgaocar ended seventh
Churchill Brothers capped off an impressive season with a 3-0 win over a helpless Air-India who finished second from bottom. Goals from Bineesh Balan, Jaison Vales and Henri Antchouet were enough to seal the win for the I-League champions.