Top Five I-League Title Deciders
Saturday’s round 17 clash between second placed East Bengal and league leaders Churchill Brothers could prove to be a title decider. Although there will still be plenty of action until May, I-League history tells us that direct clashes between title contenders have turned out to be crucial.
Sportskeeda lists the top five title deciders in I-League history (since 2007).
Salgaocar 3-2 East Bengal (May 19 2011)
It was advantage East Bengal in the title race as despite being three points behind Salgaocar, the red-and-gold brigade had two games in hand. So, three points from this away game would take them ever closer to their first league title in seven years in Trevor Morgan’s first season in Indian football.
For the first 16 minutes, it was going according to plan for East Bengal as goals from Tolgay Ozbey and Baljit Sahni gave them a 2-0 lead and silenced the home crowd at Margao’s Nehru Stadium. Due to the absence of first choice central defenders Uga Okpara and Nirmal Chettri due to suspension, attack seemed to the best form of defence for East Bengal and they should have gone three up but for some superb goalkeeping from Karanjit Singh who denied Tolgay an almost certain goal. Minutes later, Salgaocar pulled one back through Rinto and suddenly it was game on.
Salgaocar put East Bengal under pressure for the rest of the game which saw Morgan make some defensive changes and the Kolkata side’s lead was intact till the 80th minute when substitute Cajetan Fernandes equalised. Even a draw would have been a good result for East Bengal but Salgaocar would complete the comeback as Yusif Yakubu headed home from close range against his former club. The result proved to be the ultimate knockout blow for East Bengal as they managed just four points from their last three games to finish runners-up while Salgaocar defeated JCT in their final game to lift their first Indian league title since 1999.
Churchill Brothers 3-1 Mohun Bagan (March 4 2009)
Following a record-breaking ten-game winning streak that saw them get a mention on the official website of FIFA, Mohun Bagan were looking good to win the 2009-10 I-League, which would be their first league title since 2001-02. But that run was ended in emphatic fashion by arch-rivals East Bengal as Karim Bencherifa’s Bagan side were thrashed 3-0. Next up for the green-and-maroon brigade was an away match against fellow title contenders Churchill Brothers, who were only three points behind. Even a draw for Mohun Bagan in this game would have been a great result, knowing that they had won the reverse fixture 1-0 in Kolkata earlier in the season and the visitors got off to the perfect start as Jose Ramirez Barreto put them in front.
However, Churchill equalised through their skipper and top scorer Odafa Okolie just before the break and that drove them on in the second half. Making the most of their momentum and home advantage, Churchill scored twice through Ogba Kalu Nnanna in the second period to go level on points with Mohun Bagan. It proved to be the turning point in the title race as Mohun Bagan, who also had to play in the AFC Cup, managed 10 points in their last four games while Churchill Brothers recorded three more points to win their first-ever I-League title.
Dempo 4-1 Churchill Brothers (January 10 2008)
The first edition of the I-League in 2007-08 was a perfect example of why it’s important to win the clashes against your direct rivals in the title race. This fixture was played out in round 10, which was only the start of the second phase, but the result eventually would prove to be decisive. Dempo, who had won the last edition of the National Football League (NFL) in the 2006-07 season, made an unbeaten start to the season and had already beaten Churchill Brothers 2-0 earlier in the season. Dempo had experience and psychological edge on their side and predictably took the lead just before the halftime break through Edeh Chidi.
The combination of Dempo’s star duo Ranti Martins and Beto was creating all sorts of problems for a talented but inexperienced squad of Karim Bencherifa’s Churchill Brothers, and it was Ranti who made it 2-0 in the 66th minute. Anthony Pereira added a third two minutes later and although Mboyo Ibomi pulled one back for Churchill, young Joaquim Abranches made it 4-1 in injury time. It was a comprehensive win for Dempo and it saw them move seven points clear of Churchill. Dempo’s unbeaten start didn’t last for long though and thanks largely to the goals of Odafa Okolie, Churchill did make up the seven point deficit but Dempo won the title on goal difference.
Dempo 0-0 East Bengal (April 20 2012)
Backed by the goal scoring exploits of top scorer Ranti Martins, Dempo were undoubtedly the most consistent team of the 2011-12 I-League with the seven-match winning streak at the start of the season being vital. East Bengal were always in touching distance but two mini slumps in form derailed their charge, but they still had a mathematical chance of winning the title if they had taken three points from this fixture. The gap was nine points with East Bengal still having to play twice more while Dempo had just one more game left. Trevor Morgan had to go for it from the start and thus named three strikers in the starting lineup.
Much like the game in May 2011 against Salgaocar, East Bengal started brightly and should have gone in front when Edmilson Marques only had Dempo custodian Subhashish Roychowdhury to beat, but he wasted that chance and then the Kolkata side were denied a clear penalty for a foul on Tolgay Ozbey, who was booked for diving. East Bengal couldn’t play with the same intensity in the second period and in fact were lucky not to concede as Ranti hit the woowork. There was no second half collapse this time but once again Morgan’s dream of winning the league ended in Goa as the point confirmed Dempo’s record fifth title triumph.
Dempo 4-2 Churchill Brothers (March 20 2010)
There are similarities between this Goan derby and Saturday’s clash between East Bengal and Churchill Brothers, as this too was a round 17 fixture in the 2009-10 I-League and it still wasn’t clear who the main rivals for league leaders Dempo were as besides Churchill Brothers, Mahindra United were also in the reckoning. Dempo had lost their previous league game to another local rival Salgaocar and thus needed to bounce back and build momentum in the title race. Churchill’s problem prior to this game was too many draws as they had lost just once all season. Armando Colaco’s Dempo were more positive from the start and it paid off as they raced into a 2-0 lead through Ranti Martins and Climax Lawrence.
Felix Chimaokwu reduced the deficit and at 2-1 there was everything to play for in the second half. Dempo went for it and were rewarded as another strike from Ranti and a goal from Joaquim Abranches put them 4-1 up. Odafa Okolie immediately pulled one back but Dempo held on to their two-goal lead. The 4-2 win proved to be the catalyst in Dempo’s title triumph as they won seven of their last nine matches while Churchill, who also had the distraction of the AFC Cup, managed only 17 points to finish second. The Mahindra United squad were rocked by the news that the club would be disbanded and eventually ended in fourth spot.