Since the inception of I-league, most of the noticeable honours have been shared by teams from Kolkata (East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, and Prayag United) and Goa (Dempo, Churchill Brothers and Salgaocar). But there is a state which is silently grooming young footballers who are excelling at the topmost level of club football in India. The state of Maharashtra has no less than four clubs in the I-league, two of which are backed by institutions (Air India and ONGC FC), and the other two have been backed by the football loving people of two major cities in the state- Mumbai FC and Pune FC . The latter two are now making their presence felt in the league table. Pune FC is already on a roll in the league this year, giving the big guns a run for their money, but it is the other coastal team which is raising some eyebrows now.
Mumbai FC was started in 2007 with a vision to provide a stable platform to the football crazy boys in India’s financial capital. Backed by funding and shrewd signings of above average players soon saw the club ply their trade in the top division. It has been a topsy turvy ride for the club since then as consistency has been a missing ingredient in the Mumbai FC recipe every season. Last season Khalid Jamil’s side managed to scrape through, as mere four points helped the Mumbai club avoid the deadly drop. This season, it seems finally Khalid Jamil’s labor with the local lads is paying dividends.
Here is a quick Stat attack- Mumbai FC has won six of their last eight games which include impressive and gritty victories against Prayag United and East Bengal. Mumbai held defending champions Dempo SC to a draw at home in the previous round, which is another crucial point in the bag for the coastal side. Mumbai FC now comfortably sit at the fifth position with half of the season out of the window. Mumbai FC has scored an impressive twenty one goals this season courtesy strike attack of Yusif Yakubu, Abhishek Yadav and Gabriel Fernandes. The trio, especially Gabriel, has been instrumental in either hitting the back of the net or assisting most of the goals this season. Signing of ND Opara in the summer gave Jamil’s side a solid replacement option off the bench.
Afghani midfielder and club captain Amiri would be the man to watch out for this season for the Yellow brigade as he drives the team from the middle of the park and does the dirty work. Ghanaian Evans Quo has been a revelation at the back, and has been supported well by Peter Costa and William Colaco. After losing a promising goalkeeper in Ishan Debnath during the last year’s transfer window, Mumbai FC very shrewdly signed Luis Barreto from Dempo SC (on loan), and the new lad is making the most of it bagging two man of the match performances this season. The team seems to gel well this season on the pitch, which is evident when they play and get results against formidable opponents like East Bengal, Prayag United and Sporting Club. Coach Khalid Jamil would want his side to keep the ante up as they go into the New Year and target the closely placed podium finish this season.
Round 13 kicked off with in form Pune FC travelling to one of the most hostile stadiums in India – JLN stadium, Shillong. Derrick Pereira’s side continue to impress as the Red Lizards notched their sixth win in last seven matches. Jeje Lalpekhlua scored the opener and then was substituted by Khanthnag Paite, who doubled Pune’s lead minutes after the break. Lajong did pull one back courtesy Govin Singh but were unable to change the scoreline further. Both the goalkeepers did well in the game to keep genuine strikes at bay, especially Abhra Mondal. Shillong finished this round at eighth, three points above the drop zone.
Eelco’s side were not able to halt the free fall since the Dutch coach took over the Kolkata side. Prayag United were overwhelmed by a reviving Sporting Club side at the Kalyani Stadium. Key players like center back Bello Rasaq and Carlos Hernandes were missing from the purple brigade. Sporting Club was headed by new Spanish coach Oscar Bruzon Barreras got out of the blocks pretty quickly. Kalu scored a brace and Joseph Pereira piling on the misery for the Prayag sponsored side in the second half injury time. Ranti Martins equalized for the former Durand Cup champions in the first half, taking his tally to fourteen for the season. Sadly though, very few of his team-mates seem to be doing justice to their respective price tags like Ranti.
As football returned to Mapusa, Salgaocar Football Club got their derailed season back on the track, winning their first match in six games at the expense of Air India. The Vasco based club netted four impressive goals inside the first half to put the match to bed. Defender Augustin Fernandes and Milagres Gonsalves scored a brace each. The Pilots could not respond and the match finished four goals to nil.
Robin Singh opened the scoring for the Red-&-Golds after a long time as East Bengal kept their title hunt on track. After a series of poor results, Trevor Morgans’ lads are back in business. A brace from Captain Sanju Pradhan added to the joy of the supporters at the Municipal Stadium in Kalyani. East Bengal displayed good possession football as Pailan Arrows looked listless. The AIFF developmental team now sit at seventh in the table with three consecutive defeats.
ONGC FC has looked lethal during their home matches in Delhi. Saturday saw ONGC face off against USFC at the Ambedkar Stadium, with the institutional side bagging a point to move up to twelfth in the league. USFC goalkeeper Yoon Tae’s performance during latter part of the game to ensured his side clinched a point in this crucial away fixture. Earlier, Nadong Bhutia gave visitors the lead but Sachin Gawas cancelled the goal ten minutes later. Both the sides are still struggling in and around the relegation zone.