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Minerva, East Bengal, NEROCA, Mohun Bagan square off in fatal four way battle for I-League crown

Written by: Uttiyo Sarkar

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In a sub-plot, Churchill Brothers will also be looking to avoid relegation when they take on the Warriors.

The I-League season is coming to a thrilling close with four teams being in contention to finish the season as champions and all of the top 4 have a realistic chance of lifting the trophy after the final set of games on Thursday. While it realistically looks like Minerva Punjab's league to win right now, knowing their horrible dip in form recently and topsy-turvy nature at home, that only makes the title race even more interesting.

There are some crucial and terrific games which are to take place around the country on Thursday and it's really difficult to predict exactly whom will finish the season as I-League champions. So lets' have a look at the preview of the three games to take place on the final match-day of the I-League season.

Gokulam Kerala Vs Mohun Bagan

Date & Venue: 8th March/ EMS Corporation Stadium, Kochi

Time & Broadcast: 03:00 PM/ Hotstar

Gokulam Kerala were brought down to the earth when they received a humbling from Aizawl FC last week and lost resoundingly to the defending champions, which squashed their roller-coaster form. Kerala now need to win in order to attain a top 6 finish which would allow them to directly qualify for the Super Cup, something which Bino George would love in his first season for the club.

While Gokulam will not have it easy against the in-form Mohun Bagan, who surprisingly find themselves still in the running at the title race and could become champions on Thursday themselves. Kerala will look to give them a rude awakening and like their shocking victory against the Mariners last month, they will look to keep their name of "Giant Killers" and smash the title hopes of Bagan by treating their faithful to some entertaining football to end their fairly successful inaugural season.

Mohun Bagan might have looked down and out of the title race during their terrible form in January, but they have somehow managed to claw their way back into contention for their 2nd I-League title. The Mariners have found new life under Sankarlal Chakraborty and will look to continue their stunning form away from home by recording their third away win on the trot. While their fate is not in their hands, they will need to at least do their bit by winning the match and gaining maximum points.

The Mariners will need to play on the offensive to keep Kerala from finding their rhythm and will have to be at their best defensively to contain their dangerous attack. Bagan could complete an unexpected turnaround by winning the I-League championship on Thursday, but for that they'll have to treat their own match as a final and play their hearts out on the day.

The Stakes: Mohun Bagan will need to win their match against Gokulam Kerala and can become champions if East Bengal win or draw against Neroca FC and Minerva Punjab drop points against Churchill Brothers.

Minerva Punjab Vs Churchill Brothers

Date & Venue: 8th March, Tau Devi Lal Stadium, Panchkula

Time & Broadcast: 03:00 PM/ Star Sports 1, Star Sports 1 HD & Hotstar

Minerva Punjab seem to have lady luck with them as the I-League comes to a thrilling close as the Warriors still find themselves on the top of the table and odds favorites to win the championship on Thursday. Minerva will need to win for them to achieve this remarkable achievement and with their faithful supporting them on at Panchkula, Minerva will need to show signs of their old self.

They did not look convincing at all in their dismal loss to Chennai City which almost crushed their title chances, but East Bengal's slip-up brought back some confidence for them. Minerva looked solid in their home win against Aizawl last week and will need to play like that, with the likes of Chencho, William Opoku and Bali Gagandeep needing to turn up and nick it for the Warriors. Minerva know that a slip-up on their own end could end their title dreams, so they will have to take Churchill seriously and regain their lost form for one day to lift the I-League trophy.

Churchill Brothers are extremely close to the fire as they loom near relegation because of Chennai City's win last week and will need to give it their all to get out of this tough spot right now. While Churchill face a daunting task ahead of them away at Minerva Punjab, they know that Khogen Singh's men haven't really been at their best recently and look to be quite weak at their new home.

While Churchill are without the services of injured striker Mehnac Koffi, they will need their other boys to pick up their game after the dismal loss to Mohun Bagan. The Goa-based side have quite the history in Indian Football and will not want to lose their reputation by getting relegated in the end, so Churchill will have to go all guns blazing against Minerva and play on the front-foot. They will look to play on the attack and hope their defense can shut out the Warriors on the day and Churchill know that anything but a win could mean relegation for them.

The Stakes: Minerva Punjab will have to win their match against Churchill Brothers to lift the I-League trophy for the first time in their history. A draw could also be enough if all three of East Bengal, Neroca FC and Mohun Bagan are to drop points in their games but that is one thing which they wouldn't want to think of relying on.


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East Bengal Vs NEROCA FC

Date & Venue: 8th March/ Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata.

Time & Broadcast: 03:00 PM/ Star Sports 2, Star Sports 2 HD & Hotstar.

East Bengal dig up their own hole when they drew against Shillong Lajong and made it even more difficult for them to win their inaugural I-League by failing to win that must-win game. While East Bengal might still be in the I-League title race, it's quite tricky for them to lift the trophy now and defeating Neroca FC, who themselves are in the hunt, will be even more difficult.

While East Bengal have proved to be a solid side at home recently and absolutely demolished Chennai City by 7-1 in their last home match, Neroca themselves are very good on the road and will not be easy at all. Khalid Jamil will have to pull out a rabbit out of the bag to outwit his opposition and get the win for his side, which is the absolute necessary at this point for them if they want to win the I-League title. East Bengal will hope Lady Luck shines brightly for them on Thursday and helps them win a league title after almost a decade.

NEROCA FC have had quite the long gap between their last match against Mohun Bagan to their title-deciding match against East Bengal on Thursday, but Gift Raikhan's men will be a well-rested side to take on the Red and Gold Brigaders. While Neroca might not have really liked having to wait for such a long gap in their final two fixtures, they will need to be at their best to oust East Bengal at their own home and record a famous victory at the Salt Lake Stadium.

Neroca FC have already surpassed expectations by playing so well throughout the season, but if they manage to win the I-League Championship on the final day, it'll be something truly historic for NorthEast Football. They will have to play for not only their own fans but for everyone cheering on for them in NorthEast and take the game to the shaky East Bengal. Neroca are quite strong defensively and will hope that can shut them out on the day and will hope their strong attacking core gets the job done for them and send them to cloud nine if things go their way in the other fixtures.

The Stakes: East Bengal will need Minerva Punjab to drop points in their game against Churchill Brothers and Mohun Bagan does the same against Gokulam Kerala as well. Neroca FC on the other hand, will need to win their game against East Bengal and hope Punjab drop points as a win for Moun Bagan will not really affect them in this case. A draw on the other hand will crush both the teams ambitions at winning the I-League and give the upper hand to either Mohun Bagan or Minerva Punjab.

Published: Wed Mar 07, 2018 05:13 PM IST

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