Category: I-League

FIFA President congratulates Chennai City on maiden I-League title

NEW DELHI: FIFA President Gianni Infantino congratulated Chennai City FC for winning their maiden Hero I-League title, in a letter addressed to the All India Football Federation.

“I was delighted to hear that Chennai City FC have been crowned 2018/19 I-League Champions. It gives me great pleasure to congratulate them for their first ever championship title,” wrote Infantino.

“This is, no doubt, the result of effort and hard work, and everybody involved can be proud of this great achievement. I encourage them to continue working with determination and motivation,” he further stated. “On behalf of the entire football community, I take this opportunity to thank Chennai City FC and your federation for helping spread the positive message of football and foster the practice of this beautiful game that unites us all.”

Chennai City FC won their maiden Hero I-League title earlier this month, after a thrilling final-day finish, that saw them end the league with 43 points, just a point above Kolkata Giants East Bengal. 

Chennai City FC dominate I-League awards

Chennai March 20, 2019: Newly-crowned champions of India, Chennai City FC, were awarded the Hero I-League trophy in a ceremony in Chennai, on Wednesday.

Chennai, who had wowed the fans with their exciting brand of football, pipped Kolkata giants Quess East Bengal by just one point, in yet another race to the finish that lasted till the final day of the season.

“We have put Tamil Nadu football in the map with this win, and I’m very happy that the state is getting the recognition. Also, I’m delighted that more and more local players have come through and won the Hero I-League medal,” said Chennai City co-owner Rohith Ramesh.

The Hero I-League trophy was handed over to the Coimbatore-based club by All India Football Federation General Secretary Kushal Das and I-League CEO Sunando Dhar.

Mr. Das stressed on the importance of strategic planning that got the club to the title. He said, “Chennai City FC’s triumph this season has been a true testament of their planning, strategising and execution. I, on the behalf of the AIFF, would like to congratulate Rohith Ramesh and the entire Chennai City FC for their achievement, that too only in their third year in the top flight of Indian Football.”

Mr. Dhar marvelled at the fact that a club that was formed a little over three years back, has been able to topple the traditional giants of the game and gone on to win the prestigious title.

“It’s a stupendous achievement by the club, to win the Hero I-League trophy within just three-and-a-half years of its existence. I would like to send my heartiest congratulations to the owners, club management, and the players for this brilliant win,” he said.

Along with the Hero I-League trophy, the individual and the club awards for the season was also announced.

List of awards for Hero I-League 2018-19

Hero I-League Fair Play Award: Shillong Lajong

Highest Scorer of Hero I-League: Willis Plaza (Churchill Brothers) & Pedro Manzi (Chennai City FC)

Hero MotoCorp Best Goalkeeper: Bilal Khan (Real Kashmir FC)

Jamail Singh Best Defender Award: Roberto Eslava (Chennai City FC)

Hero I-League Best Half (Midfielder) Award: Nestor Jesus Gordillo (Chennai City FC)

Hero I-League Best Forward Award: Pedro Manzi (Chennai City FC)

Syed Abdul Rahim Best Coach Award: Akbar Nawas (Chennai City FC)

Hero of the League: Pedro Manzi (Chennai City FC)

Best Home Match Organisers: Quess East Bengal

I-League clubs proposed a new league format

CHENNAI: I-League clubs held a meeting in Chennai in sidelines of Chennai City FC’s crowning event and worked-out a new League structure involving 36 clubs. The restructuring plan is sent to AIFF on 18th March 2019 and 9 I-League clubs wants to meet AIFF president, Praful Patel to discuss I-Leagues future.

In the restructured League 20 clubs will play in the top tier and will pay 2 crore fees instead of 13-18 crores franchisee fees paid by Indian Super League Clubs at present. 2 teams will be relegated and 2 will be promoted from 2nd Division every season.

Concern Areas

I-League clubs have been the backbone of the development of Indian football and is now facing an uncertain future.

All ISL Indian players have their roots in some I-League Club or the other but that fact is being overlooked.

There is no marketing of the league whatsoever.

The question arises why is these new franchises being protected over heritage clubs of the country.

As per the current format, the Franchises of ISL are incurring huge loss every year and there are absolutely no chances or a roadmap to recover the losses in the near future. Hence the sustainability of the League falls under a big Question.

Way Forward

A 20 team professional league i.e. – IFL (Indian Football League)

Duration of the league: 9 Months, September to May.

Cup games to be played between game weeks. (European format)

Providing players with approximately 40 matches which is a minimum requirement for their development.

Marketing of the league to be done centrally.

All matches to be broadcasted live.

Promotion and Relegation to be implemented with no exemptions. (2 teams promoted and 2 teams relegated)

Parachute payment to be made to relegated teams.

Maximum number of 4 foreigners in each team (More focus on domestic players + reduced overall budget.)

Mandatory signing of players from home states. (Developing local talent and maintaining community connect)Strong Youth Development Projects of all teams.

Financial Suggestions

At present ISL clubs are paying franchise fee of INR 13-18 Crores and receiving INR 8-12 Crores from the central pool.

FSDL effectively raised net 150 Crores by marketing the 95 games in the season.

The proposed 20 team revamped League, would have 380 matches. (4X the current number)

We can take a conservative/ practical approach and generate a total net sponsorship revenue to the tune of INR 325 Crores (Slightly more than 2X increase).

This revenue can be divided in the following way:
                           20 teams X 12 crores = 240 Crores
                           Pool amount to AIFF = 50 Crores
                           16 teams of 2nd Division X 2 crores = 32 Crores
                           Parachute payment (2 relegated teams) X 2 crores = 4 Crores 

Investments can be done by the clubs in youth development, Infrastructure development (floodlights, various rooms, etc), fan and community engagement, in-stadia experience enhancements and improve overall home match organisation.

The additional funds available with the clubs would help them to fulfil various AFC club licensing criteria in its true spirit.

Mandatory 10% of team’s budget to be spent on youth development in line with  AFC Club Licensing Criteria.

Each team to pay INR 2 Crore participation money to AIFF / FSDL and no other franchisee / participation fee.

I-League climax enthralls fans

NEW DELHI, March 10, 2019: It may not be wrong to perhaps find Hero I-League as a synonym of riveting. Not many top-flight professional leagues come to mind when a last day finish to decide the champions in the title race is counted.

For the Hero I-League, India’s top flight, it has become a regular fashion to produce a stunning climax time and again for the fans to hog on.

With a rise of more than 58% in-stadia attendance last season, the Hero I-League has gifted four last day climaxes in five seasons, giving the spotlight to decide the champions amongst a suspenseful backdrop; and mind you, a new champion every time in the last five seasons.

The 2014-15 season of the Hero I-League saw Mohun Bagan end their dry run and lift the Hero I-League for the very first time. On the final day, the title race was locked between JSW Bengaluru FC and the Kolkata outfit with the former needing a win to pip the latter. Eventually, they ran away with the trophy in front of their fans.

As the script would have it, Bengaluru FC were on their way to be crowned the new champions but Bello Razzaq’s late header equalized to end the proceedings at 1-1. Bagan were the new champions of India with 39 points, while Bengaluru FC trailed at 37.

An unexpected twist in the history of the Hero I-League was waiting in the 2016-17 season when underdogs Aizawl FC, did a Leicester City. They upset the giants of Kolkata and won the trophy. The title race in that season also went down to the final day with Aizawl FC needing just a point against Shillong Lajong, in red hot form at that time.

Hot on the heels were Mohun Bagan, but that mattered little to Kahild Jamil and his men who played out a 1-1 draw finishing on 37 points to take the coveted trophy. Bagan finished runners-up with a point adrift.

The title race became ever more interesting in the 2017-18 season when four teams were in contention to lift the Hero I-League trophy on the last day – Minerva Punjab FC, NEROCA, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan.

The season also saw newly promoted from the 2ND Division NEROCA FC give a run of their money to the heavyweights in the league. However, it was Minerva Punjab FC who made the most on the final day and rode on lady luck to be crowned the champions.

Chennai City FC were running away with the title in the 2018-19 season, but a resurgence by Quess East Bengal, and uncanny results for the Chennai outfit led the Hero I-League title to be decided on the last day.

With 4 title races in 5 seasons being decided on the last day and new champions being crowned in the last 5 season, the Hero I-League has tantalized fans, and given a climax better than any movie for the neutrals.

It has kept hopes up, expectations high and above all it has maintained and taken euphoria of the fans to extreme levels.

I-League 2018/19: Gaurav Bora strikes twice to make Chennai City FC’s I-League dream come true

Coimbatore, March 9, 2019: Assam-born 20-year old Delhi lad, Gaurav Bora did the star turn with two second-half goals, as Chennai City FC won their maiden Hero I-League title, beating defending champions Minerva Punjab FC 3-1 in their final game of the 12th Hero I-League at the Nehru stadium in Coimbatore.

Chennai finished with 43 points, one ahead of Quess East Bengal (QEB), who despite winning their final game in Kozhikode against Gokulam Kerala, saw their dreams of the first-ever title triumph fade away in Coimbatore.

Pedro Manzi, their premiere Spanish striker fittingly scored a goal to join Churchill Brother’s Willis Plaza as the joint top scorer of the league with 21 goals apiece, but the day undoubtedly belonged to the young Gaurav Bora, a versatile defender cum midfielder who capped off a brilliant season with a double-strike when it mattered most for his team.

It did not begin perfectly as Minerva took an early lead in the 3rd minute of the game through Ukranian recruit Roland Bilala. It was off a Juan Querro free-kick from the right flank, that he rose to beat his marker and lodge his header into the back of the net.

Chennai kept pressing thereafter and with Nestor Gordillo missing through suspension, it was left to his fellow Spaniard Sandro Rodriguez to fuel all attacks. He along with Slovakian Jozef Kaplan and Romario Jesuraj, both of whom were constantly switching flanks, were constantly trying to create for Manzi.

For Minerva, most of their openings were being created by Querro from the left flank. The diminutive Spaniard finding goal-scorer Roland again in the 40th minute with a wonderful cross, but the Ukranian could not make most of a free-header this time.

Upon commencement of the second half, Chennai continued to get better control of the game. A Sydney Vanspaul effort in the 53rd minute from distance missed the target, but not by much.

Two minutes later, Chennai got the opening they were looking for on a platter. Akashdeep Singh in an effort to clear inadvertently handled the ball inside the box and referee Santhosh Bhaskaran had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.

Manzi displayed outrageous confidence in pointing the goalkeeper to the spot where he would be placing the ball and did exactly what to bring Chennai firmly back into title reckoning.

The young Gaurav Bora then made a name for a lifetime with two stunning strikes to put the issue beyond anyone’s doubt. Both goals came off corners taken by Sandro from the right flank.

The first in the 69th minute was earned by Sandro himself who then delivered perfectly and Bora coming in on the far post unmarked connected with a crisp volley to put Chennai ahead.

Then if QEB had any hopes remaining of a dying minute Minerva equaliser, Bora put paid them in the 3rd minute of injury time when off another Sandro corner, he came in and rose to head even more crisply to bulge the back of the Minerva net.

It was a fitting attacking and professional end to a brilliant campaign ably steered by Singaporean coach Akbar Nawas and as Bhaskaran blew for full-time there scenes of emotions and joy all around the stadium.

I-League 2018/19: East Bengal script a perfect result but title eludes them again

Kozhikode, March 9, 2019: 180 Kilometers further down south from Coimbatore in Kozhikode, Kerala, Quess East Bengal and their Spanish coach Alejandro Menendez Garcia knew they had to win and then leave everything else to fate.

The game began with The Red & Golds understandably on the attack and pressing hard to take an early lead. Their first attempt to score came as early as in the 2ndminute of the game, but QEB were unable to draw first blood.

As the half progressed, however, QEB looked more under pressure to score and the hosts slowly but surely began to take charge. QEB also showcased high quality in defence and along with some stellar goalkeeping by Rakhsit Dagar ensured that the hosts did not take a lead.

Gokulam came close to scoring on a couple of occasions, with the closest chance coming in the 39th minute, but an improbable single-handed save by Dagar ensured that Trinidadian striker Marcus Joseph was foiled from close. The half-finished goalless.

QEB began the second half stronger as well and a Didika Ralte effort in the 62nd minute hit the right upright. The hosts, however, stunned the visitors when Marcus scored a wonderful goal off a slick Gokulam move.

Arjun Jayaraj passed ahead to Emmanuel just outside the top of the box and the Nigerian’s deft backheel set Marcus on his way on the left. The Trinidadian drove inside and unleashed an angled left-footer beating Dagar all ends-up.

QEB then increased the pressure and 10 minutes later Jamie Santos Colado restored parity off a penalty and Danmawia then put the Red & Golds ahead in the 85th minute with an opportunistic goal.

However, those two goals were not enough till the end as Chennai City FC romped home to their maiden league crown with the 3-1 win over former champions Minerva Punjab FC in Coimbatore.

I-League 2018/19: Danish Farooq’s brace sinks Neroca to 2-3 loss to Real Kashmir FC

Imphal, 9th March 2019: In the game between Neroca FC and Real Kashmir FC in Imphal, it was the hosts who drew first blood in the 18th minute through Subash Singh. Neroca FC scored their second goal in the added time (90’ + 4’) through Felix Chidi. Real Kashmir, however, powered by a brace from Danish Farooq (29′, 48′) and Bazie Armand (57′) wrapped the game in style. Danish Farooq was adjudged the Hero of the match for this game.

In the game between Neroca FC and debutants Real Kashmir FC, it were the visitors Real Kashmir FC who pressed hard right from the start. They nearly scored a goal in the 10th minute but an unfortunate foul on the keeper saw the snow leopards goal disallowed.

Neroca FC who mostly attacked on the counter were unable to create a lot of chances thanks to some good defending by Real Kashmir FC. Neroca’s attacks soon yielded results when Subash Singh drew first blood for the hosts in the 18th minute through a pass from Chencho.

Real Kashmir now trailing by a goal started pressing harder but were unable to breach past the Neroca defence. Both the teams were defending well but Real Kashmir kept pressing hard and soon found their equalizer when an accurate pass from Surchandra Singh saw Danish Farooq make no mistake in finding the back of the net in the 29th minute.

The game thereafter was a mix of attacks from both Neroca FC and Real Kashmir FC with the visitors attacking more prominently but either team could not find the lead, as they would have wanted. The first half came to a close with both Neroca FC and Real Kashmir FC tied at 1-1.

At the Khuman Lampak Stadium, it were Real Kashmir who took the attacking lead at the start of the second half. Their pressure soon yielded results as Real Kashmir FC took a 2-1lead in the 48th minute through Danish Farooq who scored his second goal of the game.

Neroca FC, trailing by a goal, now shifted gears and started pressing hard but lack of luck for them and great defending by Real Kashmir FC eluded them from finding the equalizer.

Real Kashmir FC scored their third goal in 57th minute when Bazie Armand headed it in giving the visitors comfortable 3-1 lead. Neroca FC, thereafter, pressed really hard but couldn’t create many opportunities to their favour. Their only consolation was their second goal which happened to come in the added time (90’ + 4’) through Felix Chidi, finally losing the game to Real Kashmir FC 2-3.

With this loss, Neroca FC finish their campaign in the sixth place with 26 points while Real Kashmir FC propel to the third position with 36 points on their debut season.

I-League 2018/19: Plaza’s opener goes in vain as Kromah steals 2-1 win for Aizawl

Aizawl, 9th March 2019: The final day of the Hero I-League saw a cracking double-header being played at 2 PM in Aizawl and Imphal simultaneously. While at Aizawl, it were the hosts Aizawl FC who emerged victorious against Churchill Brothers FC Goa with a 2-1 win, Neroca FC had to suffer a 2-3 loss against a dominant Real Kashmir FC in Imphal.

The game between Aizawl FC and Churchill Brothers FC Goa saw the visitors draw first blood through Willis Plaza in the 4th minute. An unfortunate own goal in the 42nd minute from Hussain Eldor of Churchill Brothers FC Goa saw the equalizer for Aizawl FC. Aizawl then took the lead in the 87th minute through Kromah who made no mistakes in converting a penalty that he had earned for the team to wrap up the game with a win a few minutes later. Aizawl FC goalkeeper Lalawmpuia was adjudged the hero of the match.

The Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, Aizwal played host to the game between Aizawl Fc and Churchill Brothers FC Goa. The hosts began the game in their traditional red kit while visitors Churchill Brothers FC Goa played in sky-blue.

Churchill started on an attacking note putting pressure on the home side right from the first minute. They were penetrating deep quite easily into the Aizawl FC defence and the results soon showed when Churchill Brothers FC Goa drew first blood as early as the 4th minute. Willis Plaza scored his 21st goal of the season through a beautiful cross from Nicholas Fernandes to take the scoreboard to 0-1 to Churchill Brothers FC Goa’s favour.

Churchill never really stopped attacking, thereafter, constantly trying to extend their lead, but full marks to Aizwal FC defenders Richard Kassaga and Govin Singh and goalkeeper for not allowing Churchill Brothers to score.

Aizawl FC looked settled by the half-hour mark into the first half and started creating chances through the combination of Issac, Lalrinchhanna constantly supplying to Kromah and Lalkhawpuimawia but Churchill’s defence was always on point disallowing the hosts to come close to any scoring opportunity.

Aizawl who were desperately looking for an equalizer finally managed to get an equalizer in the 42nd minute through an own goal from Churchill’s Hussain Eldor. What was interesting about this goal was the pressure that Aizawl FC created on Churchill’s defence when an outstanding cross from Lalrinchhanna to Lalkhawpuimawia was hastily interrupted by Eldor, but rather than clearing the ball safely, it ended up straight into the goal.

The game thereafter was an equal contest from both the teams bringing in a close to the first half with the scorecard reading 1-1.

The second half between Aizawl FC and Churchill Brothers FC Goa began with the hosts leading the attack to find a lead. Aizawl FC forwards Kromah and Lalkhawpuimawia kept the pressure up on Churchill Brothers but a combination of great defending and goalkeeping from the visitors ensured that Aizawl do not find a way to the back of the net.

Churchill Brothers, on the other hand, started with their attacks on the counter initially and found their way into the box as well, but lack of a good finish saw both the teams tied at 1-1 for a major part of the second half. Aizawl FC finally found their lead when Kromah made no mistake converting a penalty to hand Aizawl FC a 2-1 lead in the 87th minute.

Churchill Brothers FC Goa, thereafter, tried to restore parity but it was already too late. Aizawl FC, with this win, finished their 12th Hero I-League campaign in the 7th place with 24 points while Churchill Brothers FC Goa finished their campaign three places above with 34 points.

I-League 2018/19: Mohun Bagan end campaign with last-gasp win over Shillong Lajong

Shillong, 8th March 2019: The penultimate day of the 12th Hero I-league saw Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan snatch a 2-3 victory from Shillong Lajong FC. The game that was being played at the JLN Stadium, Shillong, saw the visitors draw first blood from Dipanda Dicka in the 4th minute through a penalty kick. Shillong restored parity with a penalty through Phrangki Buam (45’ + 1’).

The hosts then came back in the second half – taking the lead through Hero of the Match Buam in the 53rd minute, but an outsanding freekick in the 78th minute from Sony Norde saw the Mariners level scores. The Khalid Jamil-coached side struck back again through Britto in the 88th minute to finally seal the game in their favour. Mohun Bagan with this win finished their 2019 season at the fifth place in the 12th Hero I-League with 29 points to their kitty.

The game began with Shillong Lajong FC playing in Red while Mohun Bagan played in white. Visitors Mohun Bagan started the game on an attacking note but Shillong Lajong FC were equally agile not allowing the visitors an easy approach. The Kolkata giants made their intent very clear from the start building pressure on Shillong Lajong’s defence line and the effects were clearly visible when a miscommunication between Shillong’s defender Aiban and Goal Keeper Phurba Lachempa resulted in the latter receiving a yellow card and giving away a penalty kick to Mohun Bagan for a foul on Dipanda Dicka. The forward thereafter made no mistake in converting the penalty kick giving Mohun Bagan a very crucial lead in the 4th minute.

Shillong Lajong FC, despite the early setback, did not lose hope and kept trying to create chances but somehow could not convert any to their favour mostly due to the lack of a good finish. Though the Red Devils were the ones who had the lions share of the ball possession, it was Mohun Bagan who kept continuously pressing hard trying to double their lead. Dipanda Dicka along with Sony Norde made a few attempts but a more alert Lajong Defence ensured the visitors do not extend their lead any further.

The hosts, on the other hand, made some interesting attempts and nearly scored through Donboklang within the regulation time in the first half, but the woodwork played a spoilsport for them. They did not stop trying and were soon rewarded in the first minute of added time at the end of the first 45 minutes when a soft push from Arijit Bagui on Phrangki Buam inside the box saw the latter earning a penalty for the hosts. Buam thereafter made no mistakes in finding the much-needed equalizer for Shillong Lajong FC in the 46th minute, bringing the first half to an end.

The second half began with Shillong Lajong FC pressing hard right from the start. The combination of Donbokland, Buam and Mahesh kept making consistent attacks right from the start troubling the Bagan defence and results soon came their way when an inch-perfect pass from Donboklang to Pharngki Buam saw the latter make no mistakes in beating Shankar Roy to find the back of the net taking a crucial 2-1 lead in the 53rd minute.

Mohun Bagan, who were now trailing by a goal, shifted gears and increased the pressure trying to make opportunities to find an equalizer, but full credit to an alert defence of the Red Devils, the Mariners were unable to find a way to score. Mohun Bagan’s efforts for an equalizer gained pace in the second – last quarter of the second half and Britto’s introduction in the 72nd minute just added a lot of sheen to the combination of Sony Norde and Dipanda Dicka.

Results soon came when just six minutes later in the 78th minute Sony Norde showcased his class scoring an outstanding equalizer from a free kick which came their way after Freestar’s tackle on William was penalized just outside the box.

Jamil’s side then came back hard on the young Lajong Defence making a series of attempts but somehow could not finish to take the lead. Shillong, who made a few attempts through Buam and Donbok, could not find the right angle to redeem their state to take the crucial lead that they lost to a silly tackle. Mohun Bagan, however, found their way when Britto scored in the 88th minute on a rebound that was a result of a good save by Phurba Lachempa from a Dipanda Dicka attempt taking the scoreline to 2-3 in the Mariners’ favour.

I-League 2018/19: New champion set to crown – but will it be in Coimbatore or Calicut?

New Delhi, March 8, 2018: Indian footballing history is set to be made on Saturday, March 8, 2019, as the 12th Hero I-League title race reaches its conclusion. The question remains is whether it will be made in Coimbatore or Calicut. The two Southern India cities will host the two games which will decide who among Chennai City FC and Quess East Bengal (QEB), will be crowned for the very first time, champions of India’s top flight football league.

The equation is very simple for both sides. If Chennai win against defending champions Minerva Punjab FC at their home ground, the Nehru Stadium in Coimbatore, they will land a maiden national crown in remarkably, just their third year in the league. Even a draw can see them through, provided QEB do not win at the EMS Corporation Stadium against Gokulam Kerala FC.

QEB, on the other hand, have to win and will be hoping Minerva do them a favour by beating Chennai. For the record, after 19 games each, Chennai are on 40 and QEB on 39 points respectively. Both games begin simultaneously at 5 PM IST.

It will be history making of contrasting styles for both sides. For the Kolkata-based QEB, who go into their centenary year next year, the Hero I-League crown is missing and is probably the one dark spot in a glittering and rich history. It is something their legion of die-hards are willing to exchange for most of their 130 trophies, including three international crowns, that the famous club has won so far.

For Chennai City FC, founded by two young football-loving owners based out of Chennai, this will be nothing short of a dream. The club has exhibited immense vision in its short existence, right from the appointment of and freedom given to Singaporean coach Akbar Nawas to scout and build the team for this season, to getting on board top European club FC Basel as part owners of the club in a landmark deal earlier in the year.

There are however two 90-minute games of top division competitive football still to be played before either Chennai or QEB can think about celebrations.

In Coimbatore, Chennai will sorely miss Nestor Gordillo, a key member of a troika of attack-minded Spaniards in the Chennai ranks. League joint top scorer Pedro Manzi and Sandro Rodriguez being the other two. The trio has accounted for 37 of Chennai’s 45 goals.

The value of Nestor to the team is far beyond his eight goals and nine assists delivered in the campaign thus far. His vision, trickery and passing ability has rarely been seen in an Indian domestic football season in the recent past.

Minerva, who will be playing their last game as defending Hero I-League champions, after a stormy season which saw foreign players recruited and discarded so frequently, that even the most ardent followers have lost count, have worn a settled look over the past couple of games though. No surprise then that the one win in their last 11 Hero I-League games also came in one of those.

Minerva love to win titles and with the Super Cup coming up next, the Chennai defence could be all set to be the highest conceding defence of a Champion team if they win the crown, and the ‘Warriors’ from Punjab will fancy their chances as party-poopers as well as to put them in good stead for the knockout tournament ahead.

Further down south in Calicut, the Malabarians of Gokulam Kerala FC find themselves in a similar situation as Minerva and no surprise, therefore, that they also have the same points and just one position apart on the points table.

Like Minerva, while they have maintained a small core of Indian players throughout the league, their foreign player composition is drastically different from what they started out with. Marcus Joseph, the top scorer of the Trinidadian pro-league, has been the most welcome addition and has scored five times in his eight starts since coming in.

Even that might not be enough for a QEB in prime form and coached most magnificently by Spaniard Alejandro Menendez Garcia. The Red & Golds have won five of their last seven games and more importantly have looked a thoroughly professional and well-oiled unit with multiple players identified in all key positions.

Coach Garcia has also displayed sound tactical acumen and has been able to bring out the best from not only his foreign recruits but also the Indian players. Didika Ralte and Danmawia Ralte have been revelations this season and Enrique Esqueda has been a man transformed since returning from a mid-season injury break.

The only sore point from the Red & Golds perspective will be local Kerala lad and the league’s highest Indian goal-scorer Jobby Justin missing out due to suspension. It might become crucial in the end calculations.

As far as the main coaches in focus are concerned, Garcia presented the more calmer picture while Akbar of Chennai acknowledged pressure on the players in the pre-match press conference.

The excitement is palpable and eyes of all football lovers come Saturday, will be remain focused on the South of the country, to see who wears the coveted Hero I-League crown.