The hosts have emerged as surprise league leaders while the Red and Gold must win or see their eternal title quest extend for another season.
With growing trickery in the I-League, the equations have become more and more dramatic every passing day. The league as we know it, have changed severely in the past couple of months, with newcomers NEROCA FC putting on a valid title campaign and last season’s minnows Minerva Punjab FC already topping the table. All these facts aside, it has been a squeaky situation for the Kolkata giants, especially for East Bengal, who have prior experience of coming close to winning the trophy yet the destiny remained so far for the Red and Gold.
How many times have East Bengal finished second best in the league? When you get the answer, ask yourself, how many times have Minerva Punjab? These data are anything but complicated. The Red and Gold have finished runners-up for three seasons, wherein each year, the supporters’ dreams and joys were razed to the ground. Minerva, on the other hand, came on charging from the second division just the past year with all their dreams, passion and coordination intact and were inspired by the glorious feat of Aizawl FC snatching away the title in the last moment – much like what they can do this season.
Everyone loves the dark horses. Even the I-League fans do. However, despite riding in the driver’s seat Minerva have found themselves in an uncharted territory. Although the Warriors of Punjab have performed brilliantly throughout the season, a gigantic task awaits them tomorrow to host East Bengal – a defeat against whom could throw them off the trail to win the I-League. Keeping the fact in mind, what is at the stake for both the clubs? Everything would not be a not too bad phrase to start, would it?
I-League Week 12 Preview: NEROCA face Churchill, Bagan tests as Minerva host East Bengal in title showdown
It is safe to say that the Punjabi outfit have been in red-hot form this season. After their last season’s I-League debacle, nobody took them as a title contender this season. On the other hand, East Bengal’s season-ending fiasco of every year have been a talking point for the fans and pundits alike even this season. Since the inception of the I-League in 2007, the Kolkata side have never managed to be crowned champions of the country– with this season probably being their last in the I-League, tomorrow’s game might just be the holy grail for them to prove themselves worthy of such repute.
Not just a game, but a battle of 90 minutes to determine the better among the two sides. Will Minerva’s youthful setup finally pull through or East Bengal’s raid of Aizawl FC earlier this season be successful? Can Khalid Jamil successfully defend his title and be rooted by the fans or his name will go down in decaying memories of the East Bengal fans? Can Khogen Singh match Jamil’s expertise this season and be cherished forever in everyone’s memories in Punjab?
It is not just a topic of winning silverware for either clubs. For Minerva Punjab, it is about honor and the chance to prove their worth whereas this might be a golden chance for the East Bengal officials to put an end to the wreck and disagreement two back to back Kolkata derby defeats have brought among the fans of the century-old side. Whereas Minerva kept marching towards the league glory, East Bengal kept drowning in disappointment – which led them to release Bazzou Armand, who then joined up with Minerva and might appear against the Kolkata club tomorrow and might come out as the reason of a heartbreak for either clubs.
Shall one ask oneself again? What really is at stake for these sides? While silverware remains the first and foremost solution, it delivers only fragments of the complete answer. Minerva Punjab, who have been vocal about their youth structure and their recent heroics with the grassroots football in India, respect have been part of the bigger picture for them. While respect can be earned with a longer period of time, the urge to prove one’s worth will undoubtedly play a huge role in Tuesday’s game.