Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I-League Preview: Round Five

The fifth round of the I-League kicks-off and previews all the action for Indian football lovers.

Round four saw most of the big guns return to winning ways – Mahindra United, East Bengal and Churchill Brothers. Expect the I-League table to change in the coming few weeks as several sides make their stride to the top. Champions Dempo will make a return to I-League after being focussed on the AFC Cup off late.

Round five sees some of big games and the results of which shall be important for certain coaches.

Chirag United – JCT (23rd October ’08, Kolkata)

The game was originally supposed to be a home game for JCT but was shifted to Kolkata by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) as part of the revised schedule due to Dempo’s participation in the AFC Cup.

Chirag United have surprised themselves with the start they have made. Four points from four games isn’t bad for a promoted side. A strong cohesive unit under Coach Subrata Bhattacharya and their best game has been the 3-1 mauling of Mahindra United at Cooperage.

Most of their players are injured or suspended for the game. More than half of their side would be changed from the one that played against Air India in the last outing. The youngsters filling in would have a tough time.

JCT’s form has been swaying. They won against Dempo and played badly in the goalless draw against Vasco. They beat Mohammedan at home but lost to Mahindra United by a single goal.

They have a number of injury worries and the absence of the third foreigner is also a cause of concern.

Expect Chirag United to be ultra defensive and if JCT do have hopes to snap the three points they would have to attack from the word go.

Mohammedan Sporting – Mahindra United (24th October ’08, Kolkata)

The Kolkata side are in the 11th position with two points after four games. Given their aim to save their season, they need to up their form only a bit and be in the top 10 sides out of 12!

Mohammedan have had off the field troubles with their goalkeeper Naseem Akhtar giving away his captaincy for not being selected in the big game against Mohun Bagan.

The fitness of striker Theodore Sunday has been a cause of worry for Coach Shabbir Ali and the experienced is leaving no stone unturned to get him to his peak form. Some glimpses were seen in the last game when he ran half the field to set up Gautam Thakur’s goal.

They would need to make the most of their home games and collect as many points as possible.

Over to Mahindra and the side registered their first win in the league in the last round against JCT. Mahindra United would hope that their league form would turnaround and they can make up for the early loss of points.

The Durand Cup champions given their pre-league form would have been fancied to win this game but it certainly won’t be easy for them against Mohammedan.

The last time these two sides met was at Cooperage in the season before last where Mahindra United thrashed Mohammedan by 9-0 in their last match of the league.

A tough game but Mahindra United do have quality at their disposal and should use the weak Mohammedan backline to their advantage.

Sporting Clube De Goa – Mumbai FC (24th October ’08, Goa)

Like JCT, this was to be the home game for Mumbai FC but was changed into an away encounter. Who would have thought that this game would be one of the biggest games of the round as they are the top two sides in the league?

Sporting Clube De Goa are coming off a comprehensive 3-0 defeat at the hands of fellow Goan side Churchill Brothers. They had their chances in the game but failed to capitalize on them.

The gap at the top of the table has been closed in the last round with Air India and Churchill Brothers just breathing down the neck of Sporting. Consistency is the key to win a league and stay on top of the table and this is certainly what the Flaming Orange would or rather should have realized by now.

Mumbai FC had a long lay off as their game in the last round against Dempo was cancelled due to the latter’s AFC Cup participation. They have played friendlies in the given space to keep their squad on their toes.

David Booth’s men are the only team in the league to have won all their games and would look to continue that form. ‘Slow and steady wins the race’ is the moral of the famous Aesop’s fable but it’s also the mantra of Mumbai FC.

They have been quietly making the strides and always played the underdog card. If one wants to see a disciplined performance, Mumbai FC are the side to watch. They may not b the most attractive side with the most entertaining football, but they play effective one enough to get them the results.

Mohun Bagan – East Bengal (25th October ’08, Kolkata)

The biggest derby in Indian football is here as Mohun Bagan take on East Bengal in round five of the I-League. It’s certainly one of the biggest games of the round.

The importance of the game is for the coaches, who have to bear the brunt if their side isn’t performing well whether they like it or not.

Both the teams aren’t in the best of form and have a lot in common – injuries to key players, pressure on the coaches, an ever demanding fans and officials, etc. Any team which loses this game would face the ire of the fans and none of the two would want to be in that situation.

Mohun Bagan coach Karim Bencherifa highlighted the positives of the last game against Mohammedan where they drew 1-1 but one has to mention that poor second half display by the Green and Maroons.

East Bengal coach Stanley Rosario would feel relatively comfortable after registering his second win in the last outing against Vasco. Remember they have beaten Vasco and not Churchill Brothers or Dempo!

It’s difficult to pick any winner in this game as often you see even the team going through a bad phase raising its level for the derby.

Vasco SC – Churchill Brothers SC (25th October, Goa)

It’s high time for Vasco would get some points in their kitty and not be left behind. They have a single point from four games and the going wouldn’t get easier in the coming rounds.

Uzbekistan striker Ravshan Teshabaev has shown his class but only in glimpses. The Goan side would need something special from somewhere in order to halt Churchill Brothers.

Churchill Brothers threw aside Sporting Club De Goa’s challenge in their last game and cruised to a comfortable 3-0 victory after the disappointing 0-0 away draw to Chirag United.

The team seems to have got back their confidence after the troubled pre-season. Skipper Odafa Okolie’s deadly form is good news for Churchill Brothers while their team seems to have returned to the free flowing brand of football.

It will be easy points for Churchill Brothers as they would walk past Vasco.

Dempo SC – Air India (26th October ’08, Goa)

After a disappointing end to their AFC Cup campaign, Dempo would focus back on their league campaign which they have been dominating since the last two seasons.

Dempo shall aim for winning the league for the third consecutive time and for that they need to boost their campaign by beating a side which is on the upper half of the table – Air India.

What would count against Dempo is mental tiredness after a gruelling campaign and the thrashing at the hands of Safa. The assistant coach publicly criticized the defenders for their failure and don’t expect the confidence of their back four to get better by those ‘kind’ words.

Air India have been flying higher and would certainly don’t want to come down. They are undefeated in the league and have surprised everyone with their form.

Under Bimal Ghosh, they have played as a strong unit which has worked for them. Whether they can get a good result against Dempo would be tested.