With the I-League set for a one-month break now due to India’s AFC Challenge Cup 2014 qualifiers, Sportskeeda reviews the season so far by selecting the team of the season. Like the I-League rules, we select three foreigners in the eleven with one among the substitutes. We have opted for a 4-4-1-1 formation.
Goalkeeper: Sandip Nandy (Churchill Brothers)
The 38-year-old has been instrumental in Churchill’s title challenge this season, having played every minute of their campaign so far. Nandy was not offered a new deal by East Bengal but the former Mahindra United custodian has proved at Churchill Brothers that he is still one of the best goalkeepers in the country by keeping eight clean sheets this season. His fine club form has also seen him return to the national team, having started in the 2-4 defeat to Palestine in the recent international friendly.
Right Back: Denzil Franco (Churchill Brothers)
The former Mahindra defender has been one of India’s best right backs in recent seasons but this has been his campaign till date. The 27-year-old has been defensively solid and has also contributed to many of his team’s goals through his overlapping and crossing. Churchill haven’t been the same team without him and Denzil also deservingly got to start for Team India against Palestine and could cement his place in the starting eleven if he maintains his consistency.
Center Back: Arnab Mondal (East Bengal)
Arnab has not only been one of the best defenders in the league this season but also a contender for player of the season. Despite this being only his first season at a big club, Arnab hasn’t been affected by the pressure and has held his own against some of the best foreign strikers also. Such has been his performance that coach Trevor Morgan even rested him before the Kolkata Derby. The former youth international was controversially left out of the squad for the Palestine friendly but could finally make his international debut in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers next month.
Center Back: Uga Okpara (East Bengal)
While young Arnab has been outstanding individually, the 23-year-old has been well supported by his central defensive partner Okpara. With Bilal Najjarin leaving Churchill, there is no better foreign defender than Okpara in the I-Legaue at present. The Nigerian’s physical presence and leadership qualities have been vital for East Bengal so it’s no surprise to see them have the best defensive record. If Okpara maintains his form, the Kolkata club has a great chance of winning the title.
Left Back: Harmanjot Singh Khabra (East Bengal)
This season there haven’t been too many consistent left backs so we have opted for East Bengal’s Mr Versatile in this position. Although he has operated as a right midfielder, central midfielder and right back this season, Harmanjot has played at left back previously in his career. The Punjabi lad is one of the fittest players in the league and thus has an incredible work rate. But he is more than just a utility player as he also creates and scores important goals with three already this season. He is very unfortunate not to be in the national team.
Right Midfielder: Joaquim Abranches (Dempo)
This is another position where we haven’t seen too many impressive performers this season and thus we select Dempo’s Joaquim, who has occasionally played in this role. The 27-year-old, who has also operated as a left midfielder and striker this term, is one of the highest Indian scorers in the league with six, including the match-winning brace against Pailan Arrows. Holders Dempo have been a little inconsistent but Joaquim has been one of the few standout players and is thus very much part of the Wim Koevermans’ plans.
Central Midfielder: Asif Kottayil (Prayag United)
The Kerala man has been one of the best central midfielders this season and thus deservingly found a place in the 30-man probables list for the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers preparatory camp. Asif got relegated with United Kerala last season but his talent and ability was well spotted by Prayag and the 27-year-old has repaid the faith in style. Asif has done well in a holding midfielder role this term, making tackles and spreading the play, and has started 19 of Prayag’s 20 games.
Central Midfielder: Arata Izumi (Pune FC)
The Japanse-born midfielder made history last week by becoming the first foreign-born player to represent India at international level. Arata has been in outstanding form for Pune, scoring five from midfield and also contributing in many other goals. The 30-year-old is technically sound and his ability to make runs from midfield and get on the end of crosses has given Pune an extra dimension this season and he could be very useful for the national team also.
Left Midfielder: CK Vineeth (Prayag United)
Like Asif, Vineeth is another Kerala player whose move from United Kerala to Prayag United has turned out to be successful. Vineeth has been a livewire on the left flank as he has not only created chances but also scored seven this season, thus making him the current highest Indian scorer. The hattrick against Air India has been his most memorable performance and it came just a few days before his international debut against Palestine, and fittingly it came in Kochi, Kerala.
Attacking Midfielder: Beto (Churchill Brothers)
If a poll was made to judge the best foreigner in I-League history (since 2007), the Brazilian Beto would certainly be in the top three. His move to Churchill last season after a successful spell at Dempo didn’t bring him silverware but he was still their best player. This term, despite being 34, Beto has actually got even better and has been the Goan club’s driving force. With 12 goals, he is the third highest scorer even though he doesn’t play as a striker and has set up plenty of goals too. Beto’s form and fitness will be vital for Churchill’s title push.
Center Forward: Ranti Martins (Prayag United)
This Nigerian goal machine would be another member of that top three and he too seems to get better with each season. Having finished as the top scorer in the last two seasons, with 62 goals, Ranti ended his eight-year association with Dempo by joining the ambitious Prayag United. Although the club have been unable to mount a serious title challenge, Ranti has continued to score freely and leads the scoring charts once again with 21 goals.
Subhasish Roychowdhury (Dempo)
Naoba Singh (East Bengal)
Dharmaraj Ravanan (Churchill Brothers)
Lenny Rodrigues (Churchill Brothers)
Clifford Miranda (Dempo)
Lalrindika Ralte (East Bengal)
Edeh Chidi (East Bengal)