The second division of I-League 2013/14 will see twelve teams from across the country battle it out in order to earn a place in the highest flight of Indian Football. I-League division-2 over the years has been full of controversies with clubs alleging other clubs of fixing matches. Players have been alleged with taking bribes and with little media coverage, the division 2 has often been given a step-motherly treatment. The last couple of seasons have seen over 25 teams play in the initial round and as a result there were several lop-sided results which led to decrease in spectator interest. With the AIFF introducing licensing criteria, the number of clubs participating this year has been reduced to half and this compact version of the second division promises to be an exciting one.
The teams from Group A will play their matches in the Railway Stadium, Dhanbad, while the teams from Group B will play in the Paljor Stadium, Gangtok. Six teams and five teams from Group A and Group B respectively will play each other once in the preliminary round. The top two from each group will join United Sikkim who were relegated from last year, in the final round which will be held in April in Aizwal.
Group A (Railway Stadium, Dhanbad)
Garhwal FC, Green Valley SC, Kalighat Milan Sangha, MP United FC, PIFA Sports, Royal Wahingdoh FC
Royal Wahingdoh FC would attempt to be the third Shillong based side to qualify for the I-League and undoubtedly start as one of the favorites in this group. Attack is Royal’ s biggest strength which boasts of Japanese striker Atsushi Yonezawa who earned three man of the match awards in the Shillong Premier League. Seityasen Singh who has been with the team since 2009 is another key player and is expected to start with Atsushi. The club has also signed the highly rated Nepal U-19 striker Ashim Jung. The midfield is led by Brazilian Ennio Di Girolamo Silva who is expected to play behind the strikers. Salvit Tongper and David Lalthansanga have also been in good form and would like to continue that in the second division. The addition of Samananda Singh from Mumbai Tigers as well as Nagen Tamang and Bhola Prasad from Rangdajied United FC have further strengthened the team.
Delhi bases Garhwal FC will make their second division debut after almost 50 years of existence and the club finished runners-up in the recently concluded DSA senior league championships. The club has tied-up with the Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools in a bid to ensure an influx of young players into the team. Delhi Santosh Trophy skipper Monu Singh, who scored a brace against Chandigarh and midfielder Vikas Rawat are the key players in this team. Nigerian striker Emanuel Ini Oyoh is expected to start upfront for the club while his countrymen Alhassan Bala Dahir and Onyeka Frank Nalue are expected to feature in the midfield and defense respectively. Current India U-22 defender Nitesh Chhikara is also a key member of the Tarun Roy coached side.
Guwahati based Green Valley FC will rely on their Nigerian striker Michael Lucky Kelechukwu in the second division. Experienced striker Badmus Babatunde has been released by the club after he failed to impress and was guilty of missing several easy chances. Sanjeeva Rongpi, the former captain of the Assam state team, and part of the 2007 national games gold medal winning side is another key member of the team and so is midfielder Thomsom Langthasa. Green Valley hasn’t done particularly well in previous editions of division-2 but will hope to make their experience count this time around.
MP United are the first club from Madhya Pradesh to participate in the second division and the club’s emergence is indeed a breath of fresh air as I-League hardly has any presence in central India. The team participated in Governor’s Gold Cup where they went down 1-3 to United Sikkim. Though there are not a lot of expectations from them, the team will look to put in a good performance in its debut year. They are coached by Mr. Ashjeet Chatterjee, former Mohun Bagan academy coach and has two foreign players – Madu John Mnpvbveze and Eze Daniel Elochaky (both from Nigeria). They will rely on the likes of Hiralal Chhetri and Chanchal Saha, who have prior I-League experience to guide them in the tournament. Varin Mehta who played Belgian second division outfit Royal Antwerp FC, is also a member of the team and the division two presents an opportunity for him to prove his mettle
Kolkata based Kalighat Milan Sangha come into the tournament after a not so impressive campaign in the Kolkata Premier League. The club has relied on Nigerian Joel Sunday for the goals and the striker hasn’t disappointed so far scoring crucial goals this season. Zodin Liana and Liberian James Giblee are expected to pull in the strings in the midfield for the club which reached the semi-finals of Governor’s Gold Cup in Sikkim.
Another second division regulars PIFA Sports Club are the sixth and the last team in the group A and the Mumbai based club will look to make their experience count and qualify for the second stages. The club is coached by Nirvan Shah and has only one foreign in form of Nigerian striker Emmanuel Okoye who played for them last season as well.
Group B (Paljor Stadium, Gangtok)
Aizawl FC, Bhawanipore FC, Eagles FC, Hindustan FC, Kenkre Sports
Coming on a back of an impressive showing in the Federation Cup in their home state of Kerala, Eagles FC are certainly one of the favorites to progress from the group. In Koko Sakibo they posses a quality striker who until last season plied his trade at Goan giants Dempo. The Nigerian proved his worth scoring all of his team’s four goals in the Federation Cup and along with former Indian international and skipper Sushil Kumar will carry a lot of expectation on his shoulders. Coach Stanley Rozario has the experience of coaching East Bengal and Mohun Bagan and is expected to stick with a 4-4-2 formation with Jagroop Singh in goal and Charles Dziah leading the defense. The team possesses experienced I-League campaigners in form of Chandam Chitrasen Singh, Gouranga Biswas, Govin Singh and will hope to profit from their presence.
Aizwal FC , the Mizoram based team are the dark -horse in the group and reached the finals of the Bordoloi Trophy last month losing to Bhawanipore. Midfielders Midfielder David Lalrinmuana, C. Zothansanga and Rohningthanga have been the key performers for the club so far and have created a lot of chances for the forward line. M.S. Dawngliana is expected to start under the bar while the defense will be led by Nigerian Emmanuel Chigozie. B. Zoramthara who scored in both the quarterfinal and semi-final in Bordoloi Trophy is expected to start upfront with former India U-19 striker Malsawmfela which will also feature Nigerian striker Eric Aningo.
Hindustan FC or HFC as they are popularly called come into the I-League having finished third in the DSA senior league championships. The club relies heavily on the form of its Nigerian forward Otegsola Olvuwa Solam, who scored five goals in one of the matches besides notching up another hat-trick. Ajay Bhartwal has also been in good form of late and is expected to partner Sola upfront. Khemson Kamei and Rishi Kumar are expected to pull the strings from the middle of the park. The defense has been a problem for the club as they conceded in each of the seven matches it played in the DSA senior league championships.
Led by the talismatic Jose Ramirez Barreto, Bhawainpore FC would also fancy their chances of progressing from the group stages. The Kolkata based club narrowly missed out on qualifying last season and would look to make amends this time. The team put up a good show in the Federation Cup where they took the lead against Dempo but lost 2-1 and also defeated United Sikkim 1-0. The team also won the Bordoloi Trophy last month when they defeated Aizwal FC 1-0 in the final. Along with Barreto, Nigerian striker Daniel Bidemi has worked hard for the team’s cause. Young goalkeeper Debajit Majumder was awarded the best player trophy in the Bordoloi Trophy and is a vital cog in the team. Midfielder Dipendu Duari and former Indian international Manjit Singh have also raised their performances when it has mattered.
Coached by Portugese Floyd Pinto, Kenkre Sports club is the fifth team in the group and the Mumbai based club would look to pull an upset or two.
Over the course of the next two weeks, Indian Football fans will see an exciting battle between the elevens sides in a bid to determine four top teams which will then go on to join United Sikkim in the final round. Scouts from the I-League will also keep a keen eye on the event to identify promising players for the next season.