The competition has often witnessed ISL teams losing out to I-League sides.
The 131st edition of the Durand Cup kicked off on 16th August 2022. Mohammedan SC trounced holders FC Goa 3-1 in the opener, a repeat fixture of last year’s final. Ever since the Black Panthers’ revenge, we have seen some fantastic football from 20 sides across four venues.
While teams like Mohammedan SC, Bengaluru FC and Odisha FC have solidified their spots with wins, Jamshedpur FC and NorthEast United are still finding their feet. Amidst the contrasting fortunes and cogent reactions from the teams, let’s take a look at the five key takeaways from the first week of the prestigious competition.
5. More focus on development than results for Kerala Blasters
Kerala Blasters had named a rather young squad captained by shot-stopper Sachin Suresh to represent the club in the Durand Cup. The senior side are in Dubai, training for the upcoming ISL.
The Yellow Army played out a 1-1 draw against Sudeva Delhi in their opener. In the 42nd minute, Gourav Kankonkar slid in a through-ball for Muhammed Ajsal, who buried it in the bottom corner. Just a minute later, Mangku Kuki curled in an outrageous effort to level the scores. In their next encounter against Odisha FC, goals from Isaac and Saul Crespo ensured a victory for the Juggernauts. Kerala were outclassed in all aspects of the game. Sachin’s heroics in goal saved them from a more embarrassing scoreline on the day.
Although Kerala Blasters are yet to display the strength to mount a title charge, they have shown glimpses of brilliance. Games against I-League and ISL sides will do wonders for the youngsters. This will also help head coach Ivan Vukomanovic to choose his ISL squad from a bigger pool of players.
4. Mohammedan SC mean serious business
After going within touching distance of the title in 2021, Mohammedan are looking to take no prisoners this year. Pritam Singh, M. Faslurahman and Marcus Joseph all got their names on the scoresheet in the opener against FC Goa at the Salt Lake Stadium. The 3-1 win came 10 months after the Gaurs defeated them 1-0 in the final.
They faced Jamshedpur FC in the following game. Faslu scored again while Sk Faiaz and Abhishek Halder also found the back of the net. The Black Panthers are now in cruise control of Group A, with six points from two games. Andrey Chernyshov’s men are playing an energetic and aggressive style of football and it won’t be surprising if they make it to the latter phases of the tournament again.
3. New-look Odisha FC
The biggest win so far in the Durand Cup 2022 came when Odisha put six past an underwhelming NorthEast United. No less than five different goalscorers found their scoring boots, culminating in a glorious night in Guwahati for the Juggernauts. They took on fellow ISL outfit Kerala Blasters in their second game, which ended in a 2-0 win.
Fielding the senior side, Joseph Gombau has re-galvanized the club with some attractive football. Although their wins have come against the reserve sides of ISL teams, there has been a lot of promise from the Bhubaneswar-based club. A positive which should be pointed out is that Odisha are yet to concede a goal in the competition.
2. NorthEast United haven’t learned their lesson
In front of their home fans in Guwahati, NEUFC succumbed to consecutive defeats. After being blanked 6-0 by Odisha, they were beaten by Army Green. The Highlander Colts look jaded after the early hiccups and may have to suffer rough outings in the remaining games.
1. Giant-killers Rajasthan United
Following the footprints of their fellow I-League outfit Gokulam Kerala, Rajasthan stunned ATK Mohun Bagan in their own backyard. With their backs against the wall at 2-1, the Pink Army turned it around to cap off a 3-2 win in ridiculous fashion.
Bektur Amangeldiev, Lalremsanga, and Gyamar Nikum all found the back of the net against all odds. The Mariners did miss a truckload of chances, but do not let that deter you from the sheer will of the RUFC players. Their press, right from the get-go was fabulous. It often left Arsh Anwer, the young goalkeeper, on his toes.
Misses from Liston Colaco, Manvir Singh and Kiyan Nassiri allowed Rajasthan to utilize their counter-attacks to good effect. With Brendan Hamill making a mistake in the last minute of added-time, 17-year-old Nikum was able to slot the ball into the net, completing a historic comeback from the Rajasthan-based team.
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