I-League opening round holds promise for the season

October 1st, 2008 - 2:03 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Oct 1 (IANS) Stunning upsets, thrilling duels, and a promise of good football spread over the next few months - these are the opening round gains from the second edition of the I-League, though rain-lashed poor surfaces could be a matter of concern. The first round battles staged in two cities - Margao in Goa and Barasat near Kolkata - have largely been indicative of the rising maturity level and improving standards of Indian football.

While five of the six outings produced winners, two of matches deserve special mention for the quality dished out and the closeness of the contests.

Appearing on away turf against AFC Cup semifinalists Dempo Sports Club, Ludhiana’s JCT Mills showed that the gruelling but glamorous league had scant respect for reputation.

The Goan outfit held sway for the major portion of the game, but JCT adroitly soaked up the pressure and upset defending champions Dempo’s calculations with sudden and fast counters.

Dempo attacked constantly, but JCT had the last laugh by making good use of the striking ability of Brazilian Escobar Eduardo, who scored the first goal, before Balwant Singh got the insurance strike. Dempo reduced the margin through Nicolau Borges in the latter stages, but could not find any more luck as the Punjab boys held out well in the last few minutes of the Margao match.

JCT coach Sukhwinder Singh’s clever strategy of playing a calculated, percentage game to nullify the Goans’ home advantage before going all out in sudden bursts of arrogance sealed Dempo’s fate.

However, another Goan club Churchill Brothers showed none of the teams could afford to ignore their class. Edging out Mumbai’s Mahindra United 2-1 in another thriller, Churchill’s midfield and forward combined well, with Okolie Odafe shining in the striking zone. Odafe scored a brace, including the all-important winner two minutes from close, forcing the coaches of the 11 other team scurrying to the drawing board to devise plans to contain him.

The four Kolkata sides, despite playing on home soil, have not looked impressive, compared to the outstation clubs. East Bengal was the only local side to register a win in their lung opener, while Mohammedan Sporting drew 1-1 with Air India in a lacklustre show.

Three time winners Mohun Bagan finished on the wrong side of an upset result, going down to the babes of the tournament Mumbai FC.

Coached by Briton David Booth, Mumbai FC dazzled in the first half with a double strike, and a rudderless Bagan were lucky not to concede more.

The visitors’ victory in their first-ever game in the league was all the more creditable, as it came on a slushy surface that the Kolkata side is familiar with.

The inexperience of the Mumbai team on rain-soaked turf became apparent in the second session, as they found it difficult to match up to Mohun Bagan’s long ball tactics. But the 2-1 win was reflective of Bagan’s incohesiveness even in favourable conditions.

The fourth Kolkata club Chirag United went down to East Bengal.

But on the flip side, the poor ground condition at the rain-fed Barasat stadium, with the ball stopping at times, could not have been music to the ears of the country’s apex soccer body All India Football Federation (AIFF).

The table at the end of the first round

East Bengal 1 1 0 0 3 1 +2 3
Churchill Brothers 1 1 0 0 2 1 +1 3
Mumbai Football Club 1 1 0 0 2 1 +1 3
JCT 1 1 0 0 2 1 +1 3
Sporting Clube de Goa 1 1 0 0 1 0 +1 3
Air-India 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 1
Mohammedan Sporting 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 1
Dempo Sports Club 1 0 0 1 1 2 -1 0
Mohun Bagan 1 0 0 1 1 2 -1 0
Mahindra United 1 0 0 1 1 2 -1 0
Vasco Sports Club 1 0 0 1 0 1 -1 0
Chirag United 1 0 0 1 1 3 -2 0

(Read as Played, Won, drawn, lost, scored, conceded, goal difference, points)

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