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I-League Week 15 Preview: East Bengal face Lajong test, NEROCA visit, Minerva entertain Churchill


All three teams and Mohun Bagan will be gunning for the title in the final week of the season.

The I-League is now entering the final week of the competition the search for the title is now almost complete. The title race is a three horse race between Minerva Punjab, NEROCA FC & East Bengal. The title race was blown wide open when Chennai City FC heroically took down Minerva Punjab 2-1 at Coimbatore.

What look like it would be Minerva’s year, their regression ever since the game against East Bengal where they drew 2-2 has been the biggest cause for the position that they see themselves in. There are just 4 fixtures left in the I-League calender and the bid for the title will now be decided on the final day.

Shillong Lajong Vs East Bengal

Date & Venue: 5th March / Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Meghalaya

Time & Broadcast: 05:30 PM/ Star Sports 2, Star Sports 2 HD & Hotstar

Shillong Lajong have a big task at hand. As things stand, East Bengal have their hand on the title with a superior goal difference to Minerva Punjab and winning the remaining two games should seal the deal for East Bengal. What’s standing between them and the I-League title are Shillong who haven’t quite lived up to their billing this year.

Shillong are coming on the back of a win against defending champions Aizawl FC and like any other team in the I-League, they want to have a part to do in the build up to the title. Shillong have all the capabilities to play spoil sport to East Bengal’s season. A win against East Bengal can throw the title race wide open again and out of East Bengal’s hands.

Khalid Jamil’s men have been relentless in their pursuit for the title. When all looked lost at one point, they kept knocking on the doors endlessly and are now within arm’s reach of the title. Winning their two remaining games should bring home the title for the Red & Golds and Shillong have not been able opponents to East Bengal as they beat Shillong 5-1 in the reverse fixture earlier this season.

Gokulam Kerala Vs Mohun Bagan

Date & Venue: 8th March / EMS Stadium, Kerala

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

Gokulam Kerala have had a very good debut season in the I-League. Kerala are currently sitting at 20 points and one point behind 6th placed Shillong Lajong. A win in this fixture and should Shillong lose or draw against East Bengal, Kerala could achieve an automatic inclusion into the super cup without having to go through the playoffs.

The last time these two teams met, Gokulam Kerala had managed to defeat Mohun Bagan 2-1 with a goal coming in the dying moments of the game. Henry Kisekka had scored the winner for the debutants. Mohun Bagan have picked up on their mediocre mid-season form and currently on the back on two straight wins against NEROCA and the Arrows.

Mohun Bagan do mathematically have a shot at the title this season but for them to get the coveted trophy, they will have to get lucky more than once and for 3 results to go their way which seems highly unlikely. With their neighbors pinned as favorites to lift the trophy, it’ll be a season to forget for the Mariners.

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Minerva Punjab Vs Churchill Brothers

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

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

If you had anyone who follows the I-League a couple of weeks back as to who will be the team to lift the trophy this season, they would’ve said Minerva Punjab without hesitation. Minerva Punjab were building something special, they were playing some amazing football and were getting the results to go with it. The kind of regression that they have shown in the past weeks has been astonishing to see given the kind of form they were in all season.

Minerva desperately need a win to heroically win the I-league on the last day of the season

Minerva are coming into this game on the back of a defeat against Chennai City FC. In the last 5 games, they’ve picked up 3 defeats and just 2 wins. This stagnation in form meant that East Bengal and NEROCA were quickly catching up to the Punjab based outfit.

Churchill too, are without a win in 4 games (As on 3/3/18). What looked like a great recovery from Churchill Brothers have stalled too and winning against Minerva would do East Bengal a huge favor in the title race. Chencho will look to be in the top of his game come this match. With 7 goals and 7 assists to his name, he has arguably been the signing of the season.

East Bengal Vs NEROCA FC

Date & Venue: 8th March / VYBK stadium, Kolkata

Time & Broadcast: 02:00 PM/ Star Sports 2, Star Sports 2 HD & Hotstar

East Bengal have to be appreciated for the will that they have showcased this season under Khalid Jamil. At one point of the season, it looked like they were never going to get to the title but they kept crawling back into the mix. Their effort has put them back into the driver’s seat for the title. Two wins in their remaining two games, more or less guarantees them the title but standing between them and the title are NEROCA FC.

NEROCA FC have been this season’s dark horse to the title and could nick the title if Minerva lose their last fixture and NEROCA beat East Bengal in this closely contested fixture. The title will now be decided only when the final whistle is blown and both the teams are in the mix fighting for it.

Can NEROCA win it like the 2nd division way?

The reverse fixture saw NEROCA and East Bengal settle for a draw as Nedo Turkovic netted an equalizer in the final few minutes of the game. Felix Odili and Katsumi Yusa will be the ones to watch in this fixture for NEROCA and East Bengal respectively. Since this fixture and the Minerva vs. Churchill fixture are scheduled to Kick-off on the same time, the final day of the I-League will be an enthralling end to an amazing last few months of the I-League. Minerva surely did deserve to win the title and at one point they were running away with it but the lack of consistency meant that East Bengal were not going to sit and watch them crawl their way to the title but instead they would try to snatch it away from their hands.

With all the three teams clawing each other out for the title, it’ll be an interesting end to the season on the final match-day of the I-League.

Published: Mon Mar 05, 2018 04:02 PM IST


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