The quarter final league of the 127th Durand Cup, the World’s 3rd oldest tournament, kicks off tomorrow at Duler Stadium in Mapusa, Goa. The quarter final league consists of 12 teams divided into 4 groups. The top team from each group will proceed to the semi finals of the tournament. With the nation focusing on the Indian Super League, which has caught the imagination of the fans, Durand Cup presents the I-League clubs and other second division teams to grab some attention.We take a look at the Group D which consists of Churchill Brothers, Pune FC and Vasco Sports Club.
After being banned from the I-League and the Federation Cup, due to failure in AIFF’s club licensing criteria, the Durand Cup will be their first tournament on a national scale. Churchill Brothers have lost a few key players due to the ban and are looking to rebuild with an entirely new squad. They have roped in Nigerian manager, Joseph Afusi, to replace the duo of Miriano Dias and Subhash Bhowmik. Afusi spent a very successful 2013-14 season, when he guided Bangladeshi side Sk Jamal Dhanmundi to the Bangladesh Premiere League title.
He also won the Federation Cup in Bangladesh and took Sk Jamal to the finals of the IFA Shield in 2013-14, after beating teams like Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, where they lost to Mohammedan on penalties. The Durand Cup will be Afusi’s first major managerial assignment in India, and he will be keen to make a strong impact. Afusi’s biggest asset will be the Nigerian goal machine Odafa Okolie. Odafa spent a disappointing 2013-14 season with Mohun Bagan, when he spent most of the season on the sidelines nursing a hamstring injury. If fully fit Odafa has proved on numerous occasions in the past that he is one of the best foreign players in India and is capable of winning matches on his own. Trinidadian defender Glenton Wolfe and Sanjay Balmuchu are also very vital players for Churchill.
Key Players :- Odafa Okolie, Sanjay Balmuchu, Glenton Wolfe.
Pune FC is the only ILeague team from Group D and certainly appears to be the strongest Group D team on paper. Like Churchill Brothers, Pune FC has also made a managerial change this season. Veteran Moroccan coach Karim Bencherifa has taken over the responsibilities of Pune from the Dutchman, Mike Snoei. This will be Karim’s first major tournament after taking charge and his team certainly has the potential to win the tournament. Karim has a very good forward line comprising of the Japanese, Riyuji Sueoka and the Liberian, Eric Brown. Their skipper, Anas Erathodika will guard their defence along with the Brazillian, Lusiano Sabrosa. The inclusion of the former Sporting Clube De Goa, skipper Matthew Gonzalves has further strengthened their defence. Their midfield will be spearheaded by Mumtaz Akhtar. Arata Izumi, Snehasish Chakrabarthy and Nikhil Kadam are also key members of the Pune midfield.
Key Players :- Eric Brown, Riyuji Sueoka, Anas Erathodika.
On paper Vasco is certainly the weakest team of Group D. After spending a year in the 2nd division of the Goa League, Vasco made a come back to Goa’s premiere division this season and it will be a major upset if Vasco qualifies through to the semi finals. In fact, Vasco needs to play really well in order to get even a point out of their two group games. Vasco beat the AIFF’s under 19 team 2-0 in the preliminary semi final to qualify through to the quarter final league of the Durand Cup. Striker Jerose Oliviera who scored in that match will be a very key member of the Vasco side along with goal keeper Harpreet Singh and defender Agnelo Barreto.
Key Players :- Jerose Oliviera, Harpreet Singh, Agnelo Barreto.
Though Pune Fc looks to be firm favourites to qualify through to the semis as the champions of Group D, Churchill Brothers is also capable of beating them. Churchill’s coach, Joseph Afusi will also start with a psychological advantage over Pune’s Karim Bencherifa as Afusi guided SK Jamal to a victory over Karim’s Mohun Bagan on the only occasion on which they have met each other. Vasco has nothing to lose in this tournament and Vasco will play a key role in deciding which team qualifies from this group.