The Red Machines failed to convert their chances against the defending champions.

Defending champions Minerva Punjab and Churchill Brothers shared the spoils in their opening I-league match in a 0-0 draw at the Tau Lal Devi Stadium on Sunday afternoon. The Red Machines started the proceedings well but failed to convert their chances. Willis Plaza had a golden opportunity in the first half as he went one on one with the goalkeeper Bhaskar Roy but the forward could not produce the final touch. Minerva Punjab gradually opened up but the match was mostly fought in the middle of the park.

Uttam Rai had the chance to take away three points right at the end but the young forward’s shot was blocked by the Minerva custodian.

5. A hard fought midfield battle ends in a draw

Even before the match started anyone could place a bet that the team winning the midfield battle would eventually end up winning the match. It was a clash of midfielders as both sides shared the spoils in the end. Minerva Punjab’s new addition Philip Njoku was solid in the middle and kept a close eye on Dawda Ceesay and also aided William Opoku by moving up the field. On the other hand, there was the calm and composed Khalid Aucho who was controlling proceeding for the away team.

Aucho controlled the temperament of the game and also maintained his defensive duties with great aplomb. At the end, both the set of midfielders created enough chances for their respective sides but it was a just bad day at the office for the forwards on the pitch.

4. Hussein Eldor the defensive general for Churchill Brothers

Churchill Brothers were shambolic at the back last season as they conceded 28 goals, highest by any team. But the initial, impression this year is very positive for the Red Machines. Lebanese defender Hussein Eldor was like an unshakable rock at the back for the away side.

Minerva Punjab threw everything at him but the 24-year old stood tall at his position every time. Eldor is a leader in his own rights and marshalled the backline brilliantly with the help of fellow defender Nenad Novakovic. It was truly a spectacular display from the Lebanese defender and can be the solution in defence they were lacking last season.

3. Minerva missing the spark in their frontline which they had last season

The Warriors evidently missed the spark in their attack. The spark which they had last season, Minerva had their fair share of chances but the killer instinct was missing from the players. Manandeep Singh for most of the game did not make any impact. William Opoku was the only one who seemed to threaten the Churchill defence and after the arrival of substitute Kouame Alexandre, the Warriors were looking to make things happen in the final third.

The reigning champions clearly missed the services of Bhutanese international Chencho Gyeltshen. Chencho who left for Bengaluru FC was sensational last season as he paired up with William Opoku to heap the misery on opposition defenders. Opoku clearly missed his former teammate against the Red Machines and it will interesting to see how the Warriors cope up with the void left by Chencho.

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2. Versatile Souvik Das the find of the game

Souvik has been a dependable player for Minerva Punjab and on Sunday he proved exactly why he is a player the coach can depend upon. The AIFF Elite Academy graduate made his debut for Minerva last season and the looks of it he is a crucial player for the reigning champions this season as well.

Primarily a centre midfielder, the 23-year old has featured in multiple positions in the field. Souvik was often used on the right wing and even in the right side of midfield according to the requirement of the team. But against Churchill, Souvik started in the right back position and put a great shift in his overlapping runs and was also solid with his defensive duties.

1. Did Churchill Brothers miss David Izazola?

The Mexican forward is one of the players to watch out for in this edition of I-League. Churchill had a lot of chances in the final but someone with the killer instinct of Izazola was tailor-made for a game like this. Willis Plaza did get into scoring positions but the forward failed to convert those chances.

Right at the dying moments of the match substitute Uttam Rai also got a golden opportunity to put the game to bed but the youngster’s shot from point-blank range was kept out by Minerva goalkeeper Bhaskar Roy. With the flurry of chances coming their way, it was a game made for someone of Izazola’s lethal goalscoring prowess and on the day he was a huge miss for the Red Machines.