I-League: Round 10 Preview – It’s a Derby Weekend
After an eventful international break the I-League is back this weekend with six matches over three days. Although the Salgaocar – Pune FC encounter is a top of the table clash, all eyes in this round will be on the two big derbies. Later today, Shillong Lajong host Rangdajied United in I-League’s first-ever Shillong derby while on Sunday Mohun Bagan lock horns with arch-rivals East Bengal in the first big Kolkata derby of this campaign.
The Shillong derby doesn’t have the history of the rivalry in Kolkata but there is no dearth of excitement in the Meghalaya capital with hosts Lajong looking to maintain their solid start and newly-promoted Rangdajied United desperate to get their first win of the season. Rangdajied trail Lajong by ten points but they have been boosted by the signings of five new players including Subrata Pal and Gouramangi Singh.
Despite their difficult start, Rangdajied’s young squad have shown promise so far and the additions of those experienced names gives them a great chance of surviving in their debut campaign. Lajong have not only been the flagbearers of Shillong football but also the North East and they would be determined to claim the bragging rights of I-League’s newest derby. This fixture will also have pre-match and post-match shows from the broadcasters for the first time this season.
The Kolkata derby will also have such pre-match and post-match analysis and the rivalry has been given a new dimension with the appointment of Armando Colaco as East Bengal coach. I-League’s most successful coach will have to deal with the expectations of a huge fanbase for the first time in his illustrious career and he couldn’t have wished for a tougher first game although success in it will make him an instant hit.
The other televised fixture of this round will be Bengaluru FC’s home match against Sporting Clube on Saturday. After picking only a point from three away matches, Bengaluru would be happy to enjoy the home comforts of the Bangalore Football Stadium, where they have only dropped two points in five matches.
I-League holders Churchill Brothers are set to change their whole set of foreigners but they might only have two of them available for this round’s clash against Mohammedan Sporting in Kolkata. The other fixture of this matchday sees Dempo host United SC, who would be hoping that their star striker Ranti Martins has his scoring boots on against his former club.
Friday: Salgaocar vs Pune FC (15:30); Shillong Lajong vs Rangdajied United (18:00; LIVE on Ten Action).
Saturday: Mohammedan Sporting vs Churchill Brothers (14:00); Bengaluru FC vs Sporting Clube (15:00; LIVE on Ten Action); Dempo vs United SC (16:00)
Sunday: Mohun Bagan vs East Bengal (17:00; LIVE on Ten Action)
Game of the round
Mohun Bagan vs East Bengal
Indian football may not still be popular among the masses but this is one fixture that represents India to the world. Every year there are foreigners attending the game either to just witness it or film the excitement that is seen in the buildup and on matchday. Marcos Falopa’s departure, Armando’s appointment, Odafa’s return from injury are some of the key subplots but the most important aspect remains the three points that are at stake.
Despite the high of reaching the AFC Cup semi-finals, it has been a frustrating start in the I-League for East Bengal, who are the favourites on paper to win the title. Seven points from five matches is just not good enough for a title contender but Armando’s arrival might just have come at the right time as Falopa had lost the confidence of the dressing room completely.
On the other hand Mohun Bagan have some form coming into this game despite not really playing eye catching football. Moroccan coach Karim Bencherifa specialises in getting the best out of young and modest squads and he has done exactly that in the absence of Odafa with his team putting up a four-match unbeaten run in which they have conceded only once.
The absence of Nigerian defender Echezona Anyichie due to suspension gives Mohun Bagan a big disadvantage considering the embarrassment of riches East Bengal have in attack but their Indian defenders have don’t much wrong with Kingshuk Debnath being the standout performer. Bencherifa will also have Odafa, Katsumi Yusa and Eric Muranda available together for the first time while the young and exciting Ram Malik has the chance to excel on the biggest stage.
East Bengal also have an edge in terms of experience as only two of their first-team players will be playing in this fixture for the first time while half of Mohun Bagan’s probable first eleven will be having their derby debut. But Armando will be experiencing this special and unforgiving occasion for the very first time and he will have his work cut out considering that the East Bengal squad haven’t really got their confidence and self-belief back ever since the departure of Trevor Morgan.
Given the tension surrounding the rivalry, both coaches would happily settle for a point but irrespective of the result let’s hope there are no ugly scenes on and off the pitch.
Players to watch out for
Foreigner: Odafa Okolie (Mohun Bagan)
After missing most of this campaign due to injury, Odafa will be determined to make a mark in this fixture and inspire his team to victory. There will be massive pressure on the Mohun Bagan skipper but he has the reputation of being a big game player.
Indian: Sunil Chhetri (Bengaluru FC)
The India captain became the country’s highest scorer as per AIFF records during the international break and now would be aiming to have a big impact in the I-League again. Sunil usually plays on the left wing for Bengaluru but is still a genuine goal threat for I-League’s newest club.Published 22 Nov 2013, 00:25 IST