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I-League: Round 26 Preview – Relegation battle to be decided in season finale

Amoy Ghoshal
FEATURED COLUMNIST
Modified 26 Apr 2014, 16:45 IST
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Overview

Bengaluru FC will be presented the trophy in Goa on Monday

Bengaluru FC will be presented the trophy in Goa on Monday

Bengaluru FC might have clinched the title but the relegation battle remains unresolved and could only get decided on the final day of this remarkable season. With only one full round of matches remaining, Mohammedan Sporting are rock-bottom but could still overtake Churchill Brothers, who have one point more, or force a playoff in case both teams finish on the same points. Bizarrely the fixtures of the two teams don’t take place simultaneously, which is usually the norm for deciders in a league campaign. But Churchill Brothers have their fate in their own hands as irrespective of Mohammedan Sporting’s result against Mumbai on Sunday, the Goan club will survive if they beat local rivals Salgaocar on Monday.

Second spot is still up for grabs with East Bengal and Salgaocar fighting it out. The runner-up team could eventually play in the AFC Cup next season so there is still something to play for both sides. East Bengal are currently second, having one point more than Salgaocar, and thus will book the runners-up spot if they secure all three points against United SC, who have done remarkably well to survive despite the financial problems of the club. East Bengal have now gone a decade without the league title but finishing second will at least be an improvement from last season. Salgaocar will be hoping for a slip-up from East Bengal but are already set to finish in the top three for the only the fourth time in their history.

There are four LIVE televised games in the final matchday including the Sporting Clube vs Bengaluru FC clash. After that game newly-crowned champions Bengaluru will receive the I-League trophy and the club have arranged travel for some of their fans. Sporting Clube will be looking to spoil the party though and ensure a top-four finish for only the second time in the I-League era. Mohun Bagan will end another disappointing campaign on Sunday with a home fixture against Shillong Lajong who remain in contention for a place in the top four. Pune FC though are set to finish outside the top five for the first time ever as even a win over Dempo in the final game will only move them up to sixth.

Fixtures

Sunday: Mohun Bagan vs Shillong Lajong (17:00; LIVE on Ten Action), Mumbai FC vs Mohammedan Sporting (19:00; LIVE on Ten Action)

Monday: Salgaocar vs Churchill Brothers (17:30), Sporting Clube vs Bengaluru FC (17:30; LIVE on Ten Action), United SC vs East Bengal (17:30; LIVE on Ten Sports), Pune FC vs Dempo (18:30)

Current Table

TeamPlayedWonDrawnLostPointsGD
Bengaluru FC23135541+13
East Bengal23117540+13
Salgaocar23116639+12
Sporting Clube2397734+1
Shillong Lajong2389633-1
Dempo2388932+3
Pune FC2378829-1
Mumbai FC235135280
United SC23511726-7
Mohun Bagan23510825-2
Rangdajied United24671125-9
Churchill Brothers23571122-13
Mohammedan Sporting23561221-9
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Game of the round

Mumbai FC vs Mohammedan Sporting; Salgaocar vs Churchill Brothers

Either Mohamedan Sporting or Churchill Brothers will get relegated

Either Mohamedan Sporting or Churchill Brothers will get relegated

The two matches should have been played on the same day and at the same time so that no team gets an unfair advantage. Mohammedan Sporting in particular have been miffed with the AIFF’s decision to have it on separate days. The Kolkata club know that even an away win over Mumbai FC in Pune may not be enough to keep them in the top flight for another season. But getting three points would at least put pressure on Churchill Brothers, who have the tougher fixture on paper against third-placed Salgaocar.

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A defeat for Mohammedan Sporting would relegate them on Sunday itself while a draw would require Churchill Brothers also to earn a point at least. There is the prospect of a relegation playoff if Mohammedan Sporting draw and Churchill Brothers lose. The Mohammedan Sporting camp though is quite confident of winning their game and the fact that Mumbai have nothing to play for will suit the Kolkata side. Churchill Brothers on the other hand not only face a better team in Salgaocar but also have to deal with fatigue as they had an AFC Cup assignment in midweek and that also was an away match in Maldives.

However the morale of the Churchill Brothers squad must have been boosted by their progression to the knockout stage of the AFC Cup despite not being at full-strength. They need to show the same character, resilience and quality which saw them get the better of  Maldives champions New Radiant. Mohammedan Sporting do have more experience in their squad but most of their big players have been performing poorly in recent weeks and Mumbai FC have been difficult to beat this season as they have suffered the same number of defeats as the top two. Interestingly both Churchill Brothers and Mohammedan Sporting have won cup competitions this season but those triumphs would hardly matter if the season ends up in relegation. One of them will definitely suffer that embarrassment.

Players to watch out for

Foreigner: Josimar (Mohammedan Sporting)

The Brazilian has scored more than half of his team’s goals and could still finish as the league’s top scorer. But Josimar has also gone missing in some big games this term and thus must be at his absolute best in the must-win final game of the season.

Indian: Balwant Singh (Churchill Brothers)

balwant

The India international was rested in midweek so that he remains fresh for the season finale. Balwant has scored 15 goals in all competitions but needs to produce one more big performance to ensure Churchill Brothers’ I-League survival.

Published 26 Apr 2014, 16:45 IST
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