Having won their first major trophy in 26 years in the form of the Durand Cup, there was plenty of optimism and perhaps even overconfidence in the Mohammedan Sporting camp ahead of their I-League opener against Pune FC.
But Sportskeeda had discussed, that despite the Durand Cup success, Mohammedan Sporting have plenty of weaknesses and those were badly exposed in their I-League return on Saturday as they were beaten 3-1 by Pune FC in Kolkata.
The absence of injured Brazilian central defender Luciano Sobrosa was felt at the back as Pune’s lone striker Raul Fabiani bagged a brace and could have scored more while the lack of quality in central midfield was evident especially after the departure of Penn Orji due to a knock in the first half.
But the biggest problem for Mohammedan Sporting in their opening game was fatigue as this was their second game in two days and fifth in nine. Pune FC also participated in the Durand Cup but sent a team of mostly academy players with head coach Mike Snoei not even making the trip to Delhi but otherwise every other I-League team stayed away from the tournament and focused on preparing for the national domestic league.
Mohammedan Sporting used a full strength squad in the tournament and although the triumph brought plenty of joy to their ever demanding supporters and club officials, the success actually came at a cost as first Luciano got injured while the majority of the team didn’t have enough remaining in the tank for the I-League opener against Pune FC.
The Kolkata giants did have their chances of course and the match could have gone either way had their finishing been more clinical but the fact is that their first I-League game in four years ended in defeat and now they will have to play catch up from week one. With their second match of the season also postponed due to the AFC Cup commitments of East Bengal, Mohammedan Sporting might be well behind some teams by their next I-League game.
Coach Moshood Bola Abdul Aziz and the players have been given a harsh reality check after the high of the Durand Cup triumph and it won’t be easy for the tactician to fix things as he is facing injury issues. He had lamented during pre-season of having too many wide players but not enough central midfielders and admitted after the Pune defeat that he doesn’t have anyone who can replace Penn.
The result and performance on the pitch will disappoint Mohammedan Sporting fans all around the country but what was more shambolic was the way the club hosted their first I-League game in four years.
The club officials could have easily used the Durand Cup success to promote their first game better but there was no such effort. Although around 15,000 fans turned up, most of them somehow made it to the stadium without tickets and the number could have easily been doubled had there been more awareness about the match.
Even more shockingly, there was a 24-minute delay in the kick-off time as there was only one ambulance inside the stadium instead of the mandatory two. On noticing that, the match commissioner asked the referee not to start the game and it was only after the arrival of a couple more ambulances that the match got underway.
It’s worth noting that Mohammedan Sporting was one of the bottom ranked teams in the licensing test and their first home game this season suggests that there is no real effort to make an improvement on that front.
Saturday was supposed to be a date to cherish for the 122-year-old club as they were finally making their return to the top flight after four years of struggle in the second division but instead it was treated as an ordinary game by the club officials. It’s fair to say that it turned out to be a nightmare return.