I-League Division Two final round had an interesting 3 way battle for the promotion spots and the race went till the final round to decide the top 2. It was Rangdajied United and Mohammedan Sporting who made it to the prestigious I-League at the expense of Bhawanipore FC.
For the third year in a row, A North Eastern team topped the I-League Division Two announcing the growing influence of Indian Football in the north eastern part of the subcontinent. Formerly known as Ar Hima, the Shillong based side was in a do or die situation when they faced table toppers Mohammedan Sporting in their last round fixture. Kolkata based side Bhawanipore was hot in their heels with a must win game against Mumbai Tigers and expecting some favour from Kolkata neighbours Mohammedan Sporting.
Even-though Bhawanipore won an 8 goal thriller against Mumbai Tigers, Mohammedan’s didn’t do them any favour by resting majority of their top players against Rangdajied United. Rangdajied made the best use of the situation against ‘Black Panthers’ and won the game by 3 goals to 1. It not only ensured a spot in I-League for Rangdajied United but also they secured the I-League 2 crown following the footsteps of North Eastern clubs Shillong Lajong FC and United Sikkim FC.
Bhawanipore was involved in some controversy in the group stages and there were accusations that they drew against Mohammedan Sporting on purpose to oust Royal Wahingdoh. Luck wasn’t on their side in the final phase as Rangdajied defeated Mohammedans in controversial circumstances. It remains a mystery why media wasn’t allowed for Mohammedan-Rangdajied clash when they were present for all the previous encounters. Some quarters even went to the extent stating that 6 teams from a city wasn’t a good notion for I-League and it paid against them. Both Bhawanipore and Mohammedans are owned by TMC MP’s and it is not sure whether there inter personal rivalry caused this! Bhawanipore themselves did hold Mohammedan Sporting thrice during this I-League division two campaign and made themselves a good name with some brilliant performances. Riding on the brilliance of foreigners Jose Ramirez Barreto and Hudson Lima Da Silva, they were a in with a shout till the last moment. Even-though gutted not to qualify they can take some pride in finishing at 3rd place.
Langsning FC topped the charts in Group A of the initial rounds at Singhrauli at the expense of Rangdajied United and much was expected after their unbeaten first round. 4 time Shillong league champions Langsning lost the plot in final round, in a battle for glory, money and the prestige of I-League. The double blow suffered from Mumbai Tigers and Mohammedans put them in a precarious position right at the start itself. Even though a 5 game unbeaten run gave them some hope, a defeat against Rangdajied in 8th round dashed their hopes of qualification. Langsning’s last match against Southern Samity was just a formality and the second Shillong based side drew with Samity 2-2. Riding on brilliant performances by Daniel Bedemi and Joel Yinka Ayeni, Langsning finished the campaign at th 4th spot , one ahead off Mumbai Tigers at the end of the campaign.
One of the oldest and leading football clubs in India, Mohammedan Sporting was the only team in the fray which participated in 2012 edition of I-League Division 2 final round. After the disappointment of narrowly missing out on a spot in I-League last season, they came back much stronger this time around and was the odds on favorite to progress this season. Mohammedan Sporting qualified for the final round from a group involving Bhawanipore and Royal Wahingdoh and by topping that group they became the bookmaker’s favorite In final round, Mohammedan Sporting qualified to I-League with a game to spare as they did the double over Southern Samity while adding scalps of Rangdajied, Mumbai Tigers and Langsning FC. One of the biggest clubs in-terms of fan following, it will be a welcome entry for Mohammedans in I-League and much is expected from the secular team which has a history of Indian Muslims.
Mumbai Tigers was the name chosen by the club owned by big money spenders Dodsal group for this season’s second division campaign. Even though the Club officials claims that renaming the team was with the strategy of attracting fans from Mumbai; it remains to be seen whether it was a tactical decision to register Dodsal FC as corporate team for I-League next season via bidding process! There is a sharp difference in their performance curve in their two rounds. May be the glamour of relegation free I-League status attracted them more than the hard earned way of automatic promotions and relegation After starting on a high with 2 wins out of 2 in final round, Mumbai Tigers suffered 7 defeats in their last 8 outings! Their management blames it on injuries suffered to key players, but in fact they had gathered the best team on paper for this campaign with many Indian Internationals in their roster. It remains a mystery what happened to them in the middle but many people believes that they will be one of the teams in I-league next season due to their financial power. Hope they utilize it in the right way by spending on academies and Infrastructure for Indian Football.
The eventual champions Rangdajied United FC is a reflection of the growing popularity of the beautiful game in the North Eastern parts of India. It was a nervy affair for the Shillong Based team and the rollercoaster ride carried on till their last match. Rangdajied could only gather a paltry 4 points from their first 5 outings before turning the tables upside down with 5 wins out of the remaining 5. The following and fan base in Shillong will be a blessing for I-League, but the controversial manner in which they qualified and topped the group was avoidable. Founded in 1987 as Ar Hima, Rangdajied United’s best performance till now was in 2011 when they finished 4th in I-League Division Two. Riding on the brilliance of Badmus Babatunde, they have claimed their biggest achievement till date and the North Eastern football lovers will be hoping to the witness some exciting Shillong derbies in Indian Football’s biggest stage.
Kolkata’s other entry in Division Two; Southern Samity never got going in the final round after topping their group in Bangalore which included Mumbai Tigers and Goan club Vasco SC. Even though there are some controversy regarding the exit of Vasco SC in group stage one cannot take much away from an undefeated side in that group. Southern Samity’s fortunes took a nosedive in final round as the unbeaten Kolkata side, needed 6 games to register their first win in the final phase. Being already acclimatized to the Bangalore condition’s one might wonder what went wrong for the Kolkata based club. In fact they never got the going in a big league and finished in the last spot even before their last match was over.
This year’s I-League Division Two had a mix of everything, two Do-or-Die battles, controversies and allegations, goal fests and goalless draws, one-sided games to high scoring games and all the ingredients which makes football one of the most attractive games. At the end of the day, two of the popular clubs in their regions made it to I-league. Rangdajied United FC and Mohammedan Sporting FC are not only going to increase the I-League fanbase but also the number of local derbies.