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I-League 2023-24: From high-stakes showdown to title aspirations, Round 8 comprises all

Published at :December 1, 2023 at 12:50 PM
Modified at :January 14, 2024 at 12:09 AM
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(Courtesy : I-League)

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Table toppers Sreenidi Deccan & Mohammedan SC to meet in this round.

With four rounds of fixtures remaining before the I-League season breaks for the Blue Tigers sojourn at the AFC Asian Cup, points have turned to premium, teams desperate to consolidate their standings and ensure they stay out of the drop zone. Six matches from round 7 yielded 22 goals meaning the round was all action with no rest and there is hope that round 8 will be similar — not if some teams could have their way though.

Delhi deserve a dull game

Boredom can often come at a cost in I-League football. The old adage about ‘defences win championships’ doesn’t quite hold for a short swift league like the I-League and there are very few teams that have ever won the trophy with one-nil victories. Regardless, Delhi could do with a little less excitement, a tightened defence and perhaps a subdued desire to break forward in numbers and at pace.

The team have, barely a third of the way through the season, logged two seven-goal games (one going for them and the other against), put out a 5-1 thrashing and not kept a clean sheet yet. Their lowest-scoring game was the 1-1 draw against TRAU in the opening week of the season. It makes for exciting viewing, but there’s a feeling that the coaches could do with less of that.

Their game against Churchill will be an ideal test then. After going through some ups and downs, Churchill seems to have built up a foundation over the last two games, and their draw away at Gokulam means Delhi will face a team high on confidence, and form.

But perhaps the team riding the highest on confidence are third-placed Real Kashmir, who have pumped in four goals in each of their last two matches. Travelling to the Snow Leopard’s den are Aizawl, who have been one of the teams to watch so far, led by Lalrinzuala’s clinical form in front of goal. With six goals, the 23-year-old is the highest Indian goal scorer in the league.

The hard ceiling hitting debutante dreams

A month seems a long while away now, especially for Inter Kashi and Namdhari FC, both of which have experienced the highs and the lows that come with playing the I-League.

Plotting the duo’s form on a graph may well end up looking like multiple versions of Hokusai’s painting of the great tidal wave, such has been the erratic nature of their form. Inter Kashi have lost two in a row coming into their game against NEROCA. Namdhari have somehow had it worse losing thrice in three games and now faced with the prospect of turning it around against perennial favourites Gokulam Kerala.

While there is no danger of relegation there is the threat of losing face, and both teams will be conscious of that. Kashi are undoubtedly the better placed (quite literally too, two places above Namdhari), going up against a club immediately below them in the standings.

The game acquires more significance considering there are no points between the two, only goals. And if Inter Kashi could do with something it would be goals — they haven’t scored since Nikum Gyamar’s late winner against Churchill, over 183 minutes ago.

Old meet new meets old

It’s tough to say who is who. Rajasthan United have played two consecutive seasons in the I-League now and Shillong Lajong have made it back after a few years away. And yet, it’s tough to see Rajasthan as the team with nous because they have played without any this season.

With five losses in seven, and stuck second from bottom, the team know that they are in a relegation fight — the form from the end of last season seeping into this one — and will need to start picking points against middling opposition as soon as they can. Lajong are anything but middling though. They are fourth in the table — few would have bet on that at the start —  and playing with the kind of freedom they — and Shillong football — has always been famous for.

Top of the table Biryani battle

And one for the popcorn fans. This may well be it. The game to make the league melt, and our brains too. A top-of-the-table clash early enough in the season to not have much bearing, but late enough to dent a title hope if not outright subdue it.

Mohammedan vs Sreenidi Deccan has all the makings of a modern thriller, and director dependent it could well go in very different ways. In the Martin Scorsese version, there are a lot of cards, a lot of goals and a lot of noise, resulting in a late win — deep into a long period of injury time — for the hosts in Kolkata. In the one with the Tarantino twist, Sreenidi completes the ultimate heist, a one-nil win after long periods of absorbing pressure.

The David Fincher version is a back and forth one-all draw, set to the motions of mind bending music. In reality there is no way this game does not yield a goal. Sreenidi may well be happy with a point and Mohammedan will hope that a win separates them from the chasing pack quickly.

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