There was supposed to be a full round of matches this weekend but three fixtures got postponed due to the involvement of three Kolkata clubs in the ongoing IFA Shield. As a result there are only three fixtures in this round with one on Saturday and a double header on Sunday with both games LIVE on television.
Saturday’s only encounter sees Dempo host rock-bottom Rangdajied United with the knowledge that a win would open up a seven-point advantage over the north-east club who are rock-bottom. Dempo have managed only three wins from their first 15 games but look a stronger team now with the additions of Tolgay Ozbey and Zohib Islam Amiri in the winter transfer window. The run to the Federation Cup semis is a proof of Dempo’s improvement but in that tournament also they failed to beat an I-League side over 90 minutes.
Rangdajied’s hopes of survival suffered a big blow on midweek as they were beaten by fellow relegation contenders Churchill Brothers. That result moved the Shillong club back to the last spot and they only have nine games to avoid the drop. The imminent arrival of Ranti Martins will give their young squad a lift but they will have to get a result in this game without the Nigerian. Santosh Kashyap’s side will also take heart from their comeback in the reverse fixture earlier in the season when Dempo threw away a two-goal lead and were held 2-2 in Shillong.
At the other end of the table Pune FC entertain Sporting Clube in a potential title decider on Sunday. The Red Lizards have just one win in ten matches in all competitions and are currently on a five-match winless streak. A win will see them maintain the pressure on league leaders Bengaluru FC but Sporting Clube have the opportunity to go top if they record a two-goal margin victory. The Flaming Oranje remain surprise title contenders but reaching the summit will enhance the growing self-belief of their young squad.
Before that championship six-pointer though, Salgaocar host Mohun Bagan in Sunday’s early kickoff. It will be a clash between two sides that are lacking in confidence after having disappointing campaigns so far. They are currently level on points but Salgaocar have a game in hand and three points could perhaps bring them back in the title race. Derrick Pereira strengthened the team with the addition of Nigerian striker Dudu Omagbemi but they have failed to beat Mohun Baga in the two previous meetings this term.
Mohun Bagan are set to endure a fourth straight season without silverware after failing to win the Calcutta Football League (CFL), Federation Cup and IFA Shield. They had some good performances in two of those competitions but the early exit from the IFA Shield once again exposed their lack of strength in depth. Club captain Odafa Okolie is still injured but compatriot Christopher Chizoba is available again after being ineligible during the IFA Shield while new signing Bikramjit Singh could also make his debut. The Mariners don’t have much to play for this campaign but a defeat could see them get involved in the relegation battle so coach Karim Bencherifa will be desperate for a positive result.
Saturday: Dempo vs Rangdajied United (17:00)
Sunday: Salgaocar vs Mohun Bagan (17:00; LIVE on Ten Action), Pune FC vs Sporting Clube de Goa (19:00; LIVE on Ten Action)
Game of the round
Pune FC vs Sporting Clube de Goa
The two teams come into this fixture with contrasting forms as Pune have just won one game in all competitions since the end of November while Sporting Club are a four-match winning run in the I-League and also finished runners-up in the Federation Cup. Pune badly need a win to not only revive their title challenge but also get their season back on track with the AFC Cup group stage also to look forward to later this month. Mike Snoei’s side have been lacking a genuine centre forward but they also lost their defensive discipline in this poor run with no clean sheet since early November.
A strong team performance will be necessary for Pune but even if they don’t play well and a get a result, it would do wonders to their confidence. They have already been beaten once though by Sporting Clube this season as the Goan outfit won the reverse fixture 2-0 to end Pune’s unbeaten start at the beginning of November. Pune also had their keeper Amrinder Singh sent off in that game so they will be seeking revenge. But Sporting Clube have title aspirations of their won even though their squad lacks experience and the requisite strength in depth. But Spanish coach Oscar Bruzon has got the best out of his young team that has played some entertaining football throughout the campaign.
In the Federation Cup, Sporting Clube also showed great character to bounce back from their opening game defeat to Bengaluru and win the next two matches to reach the semis. Mental strength will be important as they enter the business end of the campaign and maximum points in this away test against a title rival would increase their self-belief. The foreigners of both sides will be the key of course but the difference could be made by the contributions of the Indian players. Anas Edathodika, Arata Izumi and Gurjinder Kumar need to come up with strong performances for Pune while Sporting Clube would be hoping that the likes of Victorino Fernandes, Rowlin Borges and Beevan D’Mello continue to impress.
It is also a clash between two of the meanest defences so a draw is a high possibility and that result would suit league leaders Bengaluru best as they are not in action this weekend. But with Sporting Clube having the opportunity to go top and Pune being desperate for a win, it could well turn out to be an entertaining encounter.
Players to watch out for
Foreigner: Katsumi Yusa (Mohun Bagan)
The Japanese was in outstanding form during the Federation Cup but struggled in the IFA Shield. Yusa scored a great goal against Salgaocar earlier in the season and he would be looking to get back to his best in this clash.
Indian: Victorino Fernandes (Sporting Clube)
The India international finished as one of the joint-top scorers in the Federation Cup with four goals and now would be aiming to show that same consistency in the I-League as Sporting Clube chase their first-ever top-flight title.