The Hero I-League has reached its climax in the 2017-18 season, with just three games left to play but the title is still not decided. The final games will decide who emerges victorious, in what has been a highly entertaining season in the premier division of Indian football.
The top four - Minerva Punjab FC, NEROCA FC, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal all have a chance to get their hands on the coveted trophy.
Let's take a look at the title race scenario as the four teams hustle for the crown of 'Champions of India':
The current league leaders Minerva Punjab FC have perhaps the easiest match-up going into their final match against Churchill Brothers'. The Punjab side has been the frontrunner throughout the season and has 32 points from their seventeen matches played. A win over the Goan side will take them to 35 and will ensure victory in the league.
They were in a position of considerable advantage at the start of February but have lost 3 of their last four matches. They will hope to deal with the final match pressure and get the much-needed win.
NEROCA FC has been the surprise package of the season, delighting everyone with their run in the league after just getting promoted from the I-League 2nd Division. They face East Bengal away in Kolkata in the last fixture and will have a tough task at hand.
A win in the match will have to be supported by an unfavorable result for Minerva Punjab FC against Churchill Brothers. A draw against East Bengal willnot be enough for them as they will be tied on points with Minerva even if Minerva go on to lose, and, Minerva will edge it on account of better head-to-head record.
The third team in the standings, Mohun Bagan, have sneaked into contention with three wins on the trot away from home. They are tied on points with East Bengal at 30 but are ahead due to the two derby wins against their rivals.
They face giant-killers Gokulam FC away in Kerala and will need the results from other matches to go in their favor for a title win. They will hope that Minerva Punjab FC loses against Churchill Brothers (due to their head-to-head advantage) and NEROCA FC doesn't win against East Bengal (Mohun Bagan will fall short on points).
In a strange turn of fortunes, Mohun Bagan fans will be hoping for an East Bengal win in Kolkata.
The final team in the running for the title, East Bengal had the title race in their control until yesterday but a draw against Shillong Lajong has put them in a corner. East Bengal face NEROCA FC in a must-win match in Kolkata.
They will hope that fierce rivals Bagan don't win over Gokulam FC and that Minerva Punjab FC either draw or lose against Churchill Brothers.
Two teams can end up tying on equal points due to the results and there are four different scenarios that could take place:
- Minerva Punjab FC and East Bengal tie on 33 points - East Bengal wins due to better head-to-head record
- Minerva Punjab FC and Mohun Bagan tie on 33 points - Minerva Punjab FC wins due to better head-to-head record
- East Bengal and Mohun Bagan tie on 33 points - Mohun Bagan wins due to better head-to-head record
- Minerva Punjab FC and NEROCA FC tie on 32 points - Minerva Punjab FC wins due to better head-to-head record.
Things can get even more complicated if three sides - East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, and Minerva Punjab FC end up on 33 points. This situation can happen if East Bengal and Mohun Bagan win their respective games and Minerva Punjab draws against Churchill Brothers.
In such a scenario, the higher number of points in the matches between the teams concerned will be taken into account.
In this 'mini-league', Mohun Bagan will emerge the champions with 7 points ( 2 wins over East Bengal and a draw against Minerva Punjab FC). Minerva Punjab FC has 5 points (1 win and draw over Mohun Bagan and draw with East Bengal) whereas East Bengal has just 4 points (1 win and 1 draw with Minerva Punjab FC).
The three-way tie comes down to one major factor - Churchill Brothers not losing to Minerva Punjab FC. They are battling relegation from the league and have been in poor form lately losing four of their last five matches. They will be highly motivated to avoid the drop and could just play the role of spoilers for Minerva Punjab FC on the final Day
Looking at all these possible permutations and combinations, one thing is for sure - Indian football fans are in for a cracking afternoon this Thursday, when the I-League finally comes to an end.