The 2012-13 I-League heads into a month’s break on the back of players heading for the national duty as Indian national team gears up for the AFC Challenge Cup 2014 qualifiers.With 20 rounds already played in the league, the tournament heads into the business end and with Dempo, East-Bengal, Churchill Brothers and Pune FC vying for the coveted title, I-League title race is headed for an interesting last lap.

The ongoing season of the I-League has seen more twists and turns than any other edition and would certainly go down as one of the most interesting seasons of India’s top tier football competition. . The sixth edition of the title has been one of the most fascinating, both in terms of the heated up title race as well as the number of controversies surrounding the competition. In the 20 rounds concluded, the league has seen four different teams topping the charts at different points of time and have been closely followed by the other three at all times.

None of the teams has had a breathing space, nor has a team enjoyed a sustained purple patch. Each of the teams has undergone constant hiccups in their run so far which has gone a long way in making the league what it is this season; nothing short of a cliffhanger. The season has witnessed a never before fact that any team is capable enough to beat the other on a given day. A number of minnows have been able to rise and beat the biggies, with the likes of ONGC, Air India and Mumbai FC snatching points from the likes of Dempo, Pune FC, Churchill Brothers, East Bengal and the big spenders, Prayag United.

Coming on the back of a Federation Cup triumph, the Kolkata outfit of East Bengal were piped for a maiden I-League title, but contrary to the beliefs, the League began with defending champions, Dempo SC off to a fairytale start, maintaining the top spot, only to see the pre-tournament favorites taking them off, owing to a fantastic defensive display. Soon, the dark horse, Pune FC leapfrogged their counterparts before Churchill went top to eventually see East Bengal reclaim the top spot, but having played two matches more.

The current scenario sees East Bengal occupy the perch, while Churchill remain second in the pecking order just a point adrift with two games in hand over the league leaders. Dempo occupy the third spot having garnered 35 points from a game less, while the Pune outfit find themselves seven points off the top having played the same number of games as Churchill Brothers. TheHardTackle takes analyses the race for the I-League crown and the four teams involved in it

East Bengal

Games: 20; Points: 40; Rank- 1

With 40 points from 20 games, the Fed Cup champs enjoy the top spot in India’s top tier competition. Having started off brilliantly, holding a resolute defence, the Red and Golds went off the pace in the middle, losing games in the trot before they drew a few which though seems them at top, but just a point ahead the second placed Churchill having played two games more.

Trevor Morgan Has His Task Cut Out

The Red and Golds have been in poor form for some time now and look far from their best as in the early spells. Morgan has not been able to get in his best combination and is found changing things around every second game which has contributed to instability. Boasting of the strongest bench strength, the Kolkata outfit let go off a few players on loan, while some lost their form in the course of the season which has come to haunt the outfit.East Bengal find themselves in a position where they will have to not only produce results, but hope the others slip so as to retain the perch and their maiden I-League title. But given the form the current scenario, things don’t seem too rosy for the Kolkata outfit.

Churchill Brothers

Games: 18; Points: 39; Rank- 2

The Goan outfit find themselves at the second spot, thanks to a consistent performance, unmarred by hiccups, except a couple in between. The Goans lost their initial match to defending champions Dempo SC, but then struck a string of wins, hitting their peak form and scared the teams around.Having signed Lebanese duo of Bilal Najjarine and Akram Moghrabi in the summer, who went on to prove talismanic for the side, and with the strong Indian base in their ranks, Churchill started as one of the favorites for the title, albeit there were concerns on their bench strength. But the Goan outfit has risen and performed well, thanks to their stalwart Beto, accompanied by a rock solid Bilal and the goal poacher Moghrabi. Indians in Lenny Rodrigues, Dharamraj Ravanan and even the 39 year old Nandy have been impressive.

Sunil Chhetri Will Look To Win His Maiden I-League With Churchill

After the departure of Bilal, things seemed a little hard for the Goan side, but the Goan side, with the signature of Sunil Chhetri, Senagalese defender, Tamba and Bilal Arezou as replacement for an outgoing Akram, Churchill look all set to triumph. While Sunil Chhetri and Bilal will cover well for Akram, if not provide more, Churchill have also found a decent replacement for Najjarine after talks with Dutchman Van den Brink fell off. The team has been a tremendous form, but with games against Dempo and Pune FC yet in the season’s fixtures, Churchill title surge could well face another hiccup and makes for an interesting finish to the title race.

Dempo SC

Games: 19; Points: 35; Rank-3

The defending Champions find themselves five points off the perch with a game in hand. The Colaco managed side went off to a rollicking start, getting the better of fellow Goan side, Churchill Brothers before nicking some more wins under their belt, but slowly yet surely started to lose the plot in the middle of the season. Losses to ONGC, Pune FC and a lot of drawn games saw Dempo fall down the ladder.

Defending Champions Dempo Have Been Unimpressive So Far

Having let go off Ranti Martins, Dempo had an uphill task of filling the void, but Ryuji Sueoka started off in a glorious fashion giving Dempo fans reminiscence of their prolific striker, Ranti Martins. Eventually, Sueoka went out injured and it has been the shoulders of experienced Indians, Joaquim Abranches, Clifford Miranda amongst others who have held the weight of the club thus far.With games against all the remaining three of the top four still on the roster, Dempo will have their task cut out and would be wary of the threat that could take them away from the coveted I-League title.

Pune FC

Games: 18; Points: 33; Rank-4

Last, but not the least amongst the title contenders is Pune FC. The Pune based side see themselves seven points off the league leaders with two games in hand. The Pune based side has been the dark horse for the season. Pune started their campaign brightly and kept doing well, but were guilty of conceding soft goals, which they eventually worked on and bettered.The best part of the Pune outfit is their non-reliance on a single player, albeit Arata Izumi and James Moga have been the stars of the show for them. Having pulled some great results, Pune kept up with the pace and scared their fellow contenders. Pune FC has been a pleasant surprise in the I-League this term and with the club touted to boast the best structure amongst the league clubs, a win would certainly augur well for the Peninsula Group owned side

Derrick Pereira- Masterminding Pune FC’s Rise To The top

Possessing one the most balanced sides in the competition, Pune FC are certain to give the fellow contenders a run for their money and their triumph would not come as much of a surprise.Given six rounds are yet to be played and the very fact that these teams square up against each other on more than one occasion is what even intensifies the title race and one would have to stick his neck out to predict a winner at the moment, though Churchill look clear favourites from here and its only theirs to lose. Also, the fact that teams would get back to action after a month’s gap accounts for certain teams being off colour in the initial stages of the restart and that could well go on to decide the title.

THT Predictions

Winner– Churchill Brothers

Second– Pune FC

Third– East Bengal

Fourth– Dempo SC