Youngsters from several teams began the season on a strong note, showcasing their talent.
With the New Year, the I-League has returned to action with the entire 2020-21 season being conducted in West Bengal. The teams are staying in a bio-bubble and will be battling it out in a new format, especially for this season.
The season started with Mohammedan SC edging debutants Sudeva Delhi, as RoundGlass Punjab FC also defeated former champions Aizawl FC. On the other hand, it was a tough start for Gokulam Kerala as they were beaten by Chennai City FC. Meanwhile, Real Kashmir and TRAU shared the spoils in a close encounter. The Indian Arrows showed heart and spirit, but were tamed by dominant Churchill Brothers.
Here are the hits and misses from I-League 2020-21 Gameweek 1:
5. Mohammedan SC’s young guns make a bright start
The Black Panthers started strongly with a narrow win over Sudeva in the curtain-raiser. Both teams looked very rusty and it was a rather cagey affair. However, the difference-maker for Mohammedan were their youngsters, Faisal Ali and Suraj Rawat. While Faisal scored the solitary goal of the match, Rawat had a very calm and composed presence in the middle of the park.
The Kolkata club have managed to strike the perfect balance between experience and youth. While they have the likes of Jamal Bhuyan, Kingsley Eze and others, youngsters like Rafique Sardar, Ali, Rawat also form a crucial part of the team in their comeback season.
4. Are RoundGlass Punjab serious title contenders?
The I-League 2020-21 season will be interesting with a lot of even teams battling it out among each other. However, between them, some are considered a notch above the rest and RoundGlass Punjab are one such team. The Punjab-based outfit started their campaign with a win over Aizawl and are tipped to only get better. They are under the able stewardship of head coach Curtis Fleming, who leads a team full of stars of today and tomorrow.
Punjab FC can boast of one of the best teams on paper this season, as they have some experienced campaigners in Sanju Pradhan, Anwar Ali, Bikramjit Singh and others coupled with foreigners like Joseba Beitia, Chencho Gyeltshen. Moreover, exciting youngsters like Ruivah Hormipan, Bikash Yumnam and Aphaoba Singh make the squad even more deadly. The team look like the early favourites for the title and if they can replicate the quality on the pitch, they may turn assumption into reality.
3. Will Gokulam Kerala’s Vincenzo Annese gamble pay off?
In the build-up to the season, Gokulam Kerala were finally looking like a side which can shed the tag of giant-killers and be the giants themselves. However, since then, the Malabarians have not fared up to expectations, as they bowed out of the IFA Shield against Mohammedan in the quarterfinal. It was a match which saw Vincenzo Annese’s men get reduced to nine and be second-best for most of the proceedings. It was a setback for the Kozhikode-based outfit, as they made some changes to their ranks in order to come back stronger in the I-League. However, things have not gone their way so far as they lost to Chennai City in their first match.
It is only the start of the season and the Malabarians have a long way to go, but if this downward drift continues then there will be questions on Annese and his selection. The Gokulam Kerala management decided not to extend terms with Santiago Varela, who won them the Kerala Premier League and Durand Cup during his reign. Therefore, the onus is now on the Italian tactician to prove his mettle and guide Gokulam to glory this season.
2. TRAU’s Komron Tursunov fastest off the mark
Although TRAU started their campaign with a 1-1 draw against Real Kashmir, their star foreigner Komron Tursunov made the headlines. He etched his name in the history books by scoring the fastest goal ever in the I-League. The Tajikistan international handed TRAU the lead within nine seconds from kickoff. Defender Helder Lobato’s long ball was intercepted by Real Kashmir defender Zohib Amiri. However, he succumbed under pressure from Tursunov and lost possession, as the Tajik midfielder took a touch and then blasted it into the top left corner with a long range effort.
Tursunov won the I-League with Mohun Bagan last season and has returned to India to represent TRAU this term. The Tajik midfielder already looks like a key player for the Manipur-based team. Earlier, it was Katsumi Yusa who held the record for NEROCA when he scored within 13 seconds from kickoff in the 2018-19 season against Churchill Brothers.
1. More Indian Arrrows starlets in I-League shop window
Over the years, the Indian Arrows project has produced some of the best Indian talents. Players like Akash Mishra and Hendry Antonay who featured for the Arrows last season have grown in stature and are regulars in the Indian Super League. The Arrows have always come up with prodigious talents and this season, players like Ricky Shabong, Gurkirat Singh, Lalchhanhima Sailo are the ones you must keep an eye on.
While Shabong has already made a name for himself after his exploits from last season, the midfielder will look to return with renewed zeal and motivation for the Arrows. Sailo is another such talent, who can be the next big thing to come out of the Arrows project. The youngster from Mizoram who admires Lalrindika Ralte is eager to prove a point in the I-League 2020-21. While these are just a few mentions, we expect the entire Arrows setup to work in tandem and produce more household names in the coming years.