I-League: Round 18 Preview – Armando Colaco desperate for three points against his beloved Dempo
There are five matches this weekend and four of them will be televised LIVE much to the delight of Indian football fans. The action kicks off on Friday with Mohun Bagan looking to bounce back from their recent disappointments against an in-form Churchill Brothers side. The Mariners are enduring a fourth straight trophyless season but it could get worse if Churchill Brothers win this encounter because then the Kolkata club will surely be involved in the relegation battle. The Red Machines are on an eight-match unbeaten run in all competitions but are yet to win an I-League game outside Goa this season.
Another Kolkata giant that could be in danger of relegation is Mohammedan Sporting as they are only a point above rock-bottom Rangdajied United and have lost their last three I-League games. Despite winning two cup competitions this season, Mohammedan Sporting have struggled to beat teams over 90 minutes and they cannot afford another slip-up at home against Salgaocar, who returned to winning ways in the last round and still have an outside chance of mounting a title challenge.
League leaders Bengaluru FC resume their I-League campaign with a home game against Mumbai FC on Sunday. Bengaluru are strong at home but six of their remaining night fixtures are away so they cannot afford to drop points against a Mumbai side that sits only five points above the drop zone. In Kalyani, fourth-placed Shillong Lajong would be looking to remain in the title race with a win over United SC. The purple shirts are on a seven-match winless streak in the I-League and thus they need a victory to get their confidence back.
East Bengal has been considered title favourites all season as they possess the best squad but the red-and-gold brigade have failed to live up to the expectations, having already dropped 17 points from their first 12 matches. Even the games in hand won’t be enough for Armando Colaco’s side if they can’t find any consistency and on Sunday they face a rejuvenated Dempo side. The Goan club are aiming to do the double over East Bengal and could virtually end the Kolkata club’s title hopes if they achieve that target.
Friday: Mohun Bagan vs Churchill Brothers (18:00; LIVE on Ten Action)
Saturday: Mohammedan Sporting vs Salgaocar (18:00; LIVE on Ten Action)
Sunday: United SC vs Shillong Lajong (14:30), Bengaluru FC vs Mumbai FC (16:00; LIVE on Ten Action), Dempo vs East Bengal (18:00; LIVE on Ten Action)
Game of the round
Dempo vs East Bengal
What Armando Colaco achieved at Dempo may not be matched by another coach in Indian football history. But the former India coach could actually get more recognition if he guides East Bengal to their first-ever I-League crown and first league title in a decade. The reason for that is simple. East Bengal have a rich history and a fanbase that very few clubs in Asia can rival in terms of numbers. The few Dempo fans in the country might find that harsh as Armando won as many as five league titles there and even took the club to the AFC Cup semis after getting past stronger West Asian opposition in the group stage.
But in fairness, Armando has been under more spotlight in his four-month stint at East Bengal so far than he was during the 13 years at Dempo. The 60-year-old publicly plays down that daily pressure from fans and the media but it has been unwelcome at times as his every decision is scrutinized. The majority of the Bengali media in Kolkata and a big section of the fans didn’t support his idea of fielding weakened teams in the IFA Shield although it was totally justified as East Bengal had to play 15 games during the I-League break. Some players lack freshness because of the heavy schedule and that was evident in the goalless draw with Churchill Brothers on Tuesday.
Next up for Armando is a reunion with his beloved Dempo, the first time that he will be up against them since leaving at the end of last season and he would be hoping that this fixture marks the beginning of a winning streak that East Bengal desperately needs to win the title. They may have been in the top three in the last three seasons but East Bengal haven’t won back-to-back games in the I-League for more than 12 months and there are question marks regarding the squad harmony with Armando even claiming that some players have been selfish with their decision making. East Bengal also haven’t won in Goa in their last three visits and have their work cut out to beat a Dempo side that looks stronger than the one that won the reverse fixture 3-1 in Kalyani back in October.
The other major sub-plot of this clash is of course that Armando will also be up against his successor Arthur Papas for the very first time. David Moyes’ struggles at Manchester United shows how difficult it is to replace a coach that has had a long successful stint in one club. Papas too has found it tough as Dempo have failed to mount a title challenge with a major transition in the squad. But the Australian turned things around in the Federation Cup and now will be eyeing a strong run so that Dempo at least finish in the top five (they haven’t finished outside that since 2002-03). A win for Papas over Armando could be the start of his own legacy at Dempo while also jeopardise his predecessor’s hopes of winning a sixth league title.
Players to watch out for
Foreigner: Echezona Anyichie (Mohun Bagan)
The Nigerian defender was outstanding in the Federation Cup and needs to show that form against Churchill Brothers’ bolstered attack. Eche was at fault for Salgaocar’s winner last weekend and thus will be determined to make up for that error.
Indian: Sunil Chhetri (Bengaluru FC)
The Arjuna Awardee is the joint-top scorer with nine and has a great chance of becoming the first Indian to finish as the highest scorer. But the India captain’s priority will be winning the title and he will be looking to have a big impact against Mumbai.Published 20 Feb 2014, 18:31 IST