16th January 2016 would undoubtedly go down as an historic day in Indian Football. It was a day when Aizawl hosted its first ever I-League match at the picturesque Rajiv Gandhi Stadium when home team Aizawl FC faced off against Bengaluru FC.
North East India has emerged as the new power center in Indian Football with a host of players from the region playing in the national team and major clubs across the country. The I-League representation from the region had been concentrated only to Shillong with Shillong Lajong featuring in the I-League regularly since the 2011/12.
The other clubs to feature in the I-League included Royal Wahingdoh, Rangdajied United and United Sikkim with the first two coming from Shillong itself. Aizawl FC’ s qualification from the second division adds another city from the North East onto the map of I-League and makes up for Royal Wahingdoh’ s dropout from the I-League.
The state of Mizroam has made considerable strides in Indian Football over the last decade. The key Mizo players who have made their mark in Indian Football include the likes of Jeje Lalpekhlua, Shylo Malsawmtluanga and Lalrindika Ralte. In 2014 Mizoram won the Santosh Trophy and the core of that team came from Aizawl FC. It came as no surprise when the club qualified for the I-League a year later.
The Mizoram Premier League organized by the state federation is one of the most competitive and well organized state leagues in the nation. The state league matches often draw large number of spectators to the ground. Mizoram FA ‘s focus on grass root level has helped the players from the state, and the state federation is an example for other state federations in the country. With the I-League coming to the Aizawl, the beautiful game in the state will get a further boost as the fans will get a chance to watch the top football players from the country.
The buildup to Aizawl FC’ s match against Bengaluru FC was nothing sort of spectacular as the tickets to the match were sold out in a few hours of going live and the fully packed Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Aizawl won the hearts of the entire Indian Football fraternity including the Bengaluru FC contingent.
The entire state wore a festive look and the local FM channel even aired live commentary of the match. The club from Bengaluru in fact took to twitter to thank the fans who had thronged the stadium for the match.
— Bengaluru FC (@bengalurufc) January 17, 2016
The packed stadium at Aizawl is a shot in the arm for the I-League because the average attendance in Goa has dropped considerably from what they were a decade ago, and also because the clubs from Pune and Mumbai have failed to attract crowd. The emergence of Aizawl FC on the map of I-League has deeply enriched the league as the club enjoys tremendous support which was evident even in the away match as a lot of supporters had made the trip from Mizoram to Kolkata to cheer for their club.
On the field it was yet another case of being so near yet so far for Aizawl FC. The hosts dominated the game for most part of the ninety minutes but it was Bengaluru FC who eked out a 1-0 win.
Aizawl FC played free flowing football as was the case in the second half against Mohun Bagan and had 14 corners as compared to 1 earned by Bengaluru FC. Aizawl enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession and had more shots on target but were denied by some fine goalkeeping from Bengaluru custodian Thuammawia.
Most Aizawl FC players lack the experience of playing in the top flight of Indian Football but the team should grow in confidence as they play more and more games. Also considering the fact that Aizawl is located at a higher altitude as compared to other cities, opposition teams are likely to find Aizawl FC a tough nut to crack specially at home. Win or lose, for now the Indian Football fraternity is clearly enjoying Aizawl’ s emergence.
DSK Shivajians FC Start With a Point
DSK Shivajians, Pune’ s new representative in the I-League made their debut with a point away from home against Sporting Clube de Goa, a result that would satisfy coach Derrick Periera.
The DSK squad boasted of the likes of Subrata Paul, Zohib Islam Amiri, Mohammed Rafi and Douhou Pierre but it was the young Indrajit Chougale who was the star for the team as he troubled the opposition defenders with his skills and also tested the Sporting custodian with some shots from outside the box.
The DSK defense lacked experience and was put under pressure at times by the Flaming Oranje but the situation should improve as a foreign defender is expected to join the team. DSK now travel to Aizawl to face Aizawl FC in their next encounter.
Mohun Bagan Win While East Bengal Draw Ahead Of Kolkata Derby
The Mariners notched up a morale boasting 4-2 win over Salgaocar with Luciano Sabrosa making his club debut. The Brazilian center back scored a goal and earned the man of the match award but manager Sanjoy Sen wasn’t pleased with the fact that his team conceded two goals.
There were however a lot of positives as well from the match. Debjit Majumder returned to the starting eleven and made some good saves which will give him confidence ahead of the match against East Bengal. Balwant Singh impressed once again in the forward line and scored a fine goal from Yusa Katsumi’ s corner while Pronay Halder, playing as a box to box midfielder, also impressed on his Mohun Bagan debut. Mohun Bagan look a well oiled machine and if Sanjoy Sen can sort out the minor chinks in the defense, Bagan could well go on to defend their title.
The Lal-Hould brigade on the other hand were held to a goalless draw by Mumbai FC at the Cooperage Stadium. South Korean Do-Dong Hyun has failed to replicate the form that he showed in the Kolkata Football League and coach Biswajit Bhattacharya would be hoping that the striker can hit his top form soon. Though the club has announced the signing of Bernard Mendy as the fourth foreigner, it remains to be seen if the former French international is available for selection before the Kolkata derby.
Poor Start For Goan Clubs
Salgaocar’ s poor start to the I-League continued as they lost their second straight game. The Salgaocar defense was caught napping throughout the match and Bagan could have easily scored a couple more.
Salgaocar once again played with a lone foreign player and coach Malky Thomson acknowledged that his side needs a few additions particularly in defense where the team clearly lacks a leader.
Sporting Club de Goa on the other hand looked a better team as compared to the last match against East Begnal but failed to capitalize on the chances that came their way. The Flaming Oranje were the better side against DSK but were found wanting in the final third. Both clubs were involved in relegation scramble in the last season and if they fail to raise their level, they could be involved in the relegation dog-fight this season as well.