Airtel I-League enters its third round this weekend and it’s an early start as there is a game later this Friday afternoon with debutants Rangdajied United hosting their first-ever I-League game against five-time record Indian champions Dempo. The Shillong club expect an attendance of at least 20,000 and that passionate home support could really help their team after back-to-back defeats in the opening two rounds. Dempo too have had a difficult start with just one point from two games so Australian coach Arthur Papas will be determined for an away win. There will be a game in Shillong’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Saturday also with Lajong hosting Sporting Clube.
There are two games each on Saturday and Sunday with one match on each day being shown live. According to the initial schedule there was supposed to be three televised fixtures this weekend but the East Bengal – Pune FC game has been postponed due to the former’s involvement in the AFC Cup. The red-and-gold brigade did India proud by producing a fighting display in the second half of their 2-4 defeat to Kuwait SC on Tuesday and only returned to Kolkata late on Thursday evening.
As a result East Bengal will have to wait until October 9 to play their first I-League game of this season which will be an away clash against Shillong Lajong. So despite the pride of representing India in the knockout stages of Asia’s Europa League, the Kolkata giants already have a big fixture backlog. Their arch-rivals Mohun Bagan are also not in action this weekend (one final reminder that at least one team every round will be having a breather as there are odd number of teams this season).
After having an off last week, Salgaocar and Mohammedan Sporting resume their campaign again with the two sides going head-to-head in Goa. Defending champions Churchill Brothers will be looking to register their first win of the season at home against unbeaten Mumbai FC, who drew their first two matches. Debutants Bengaluru FC are yet to lose a game having recorded four points already and for the third straight round will enjoy home comforts against table toppers United Sports Club.
Last round produced only nine goals in five matches so fans would be hoping for a little more entertainment this weekend.
Friday: Rangdajied United vs Dempo (15:30)
Saturday: Shillong Lajong vs Sporting Clube (15:30); Churchill Brothers vs Mumbai FC (15:30; LIVE on Ten Action)
Sunday: Salgaocar vs Mohammedan Sporting (16:00); Bengaluru FC vs United Sports Club (16:00; LIVE on Ten Sports)
Game of the round
Bengaluru FC vs United SC
This clash between I-League’s newest club and the early pacesetters promises to be interesting as both sides have started the season well. In fact if one goes by the very fine details of the current league table, then Bengaluru FC are second so this is a top of the table clash.
There is a freshness and feel-good-factor at JSW-owned Bengaluru FC both on and off the pitch. While the team have impressed under the coaching of former Manchester United youngster Ashley Westwood with an attractive brand of football, the club management are doing everything to keep their growing and young fanbase happy. Whether it’s the energetic pre-match or halftime music or the introduction of the matchday programme, Bengaluru are doing all the right things to enhance their brand and have already got a good response with a healthy average attendance of more than 6000 for their first two games.
But the start of United SC is equally inspiring as Dutch coach Eelco Schattorie and the players have been very professional in their job although the club is going through a financial crisis. The technical staff are yet to be paid their salaries but everyone including I-League’s top scorer of the last three seasons, Ranti Martins has been supportive towards the club officials and focused on matters on the pitch without making any complaints with two wins in as many games so far.
Partnerships have been key for both sides with former England-based defenders John Johnson and Curtis Osano forming a formidable partnership in central defence for Bengaluru FC while Liberian Eric Brown and Ranti have already shown a great understanding upfront. This has the makings of a highly entertaining contest so it’s great news that the match will be telecasted LIVE.
Players to watch out for
Foreigner: Henri Antchouet (Churchill Brothers)
The Gabon international has added responsibility this season due to the lack of experience and quality in the Goan club’s other forwards. Antchouet looked a little rusty against Mohun Bagan last week but should be in better shape this weekend and would aim to open his account.
Indian: Jeje Lalpekhlua (Dempo)
The India international repaid Papas’ faith in him last week by scoring on his first start of the campaign and Jeje would relish playing against the inexperienced backline of Rangdajied United this weekend. Scoring in consecutive rounds will increase his chances of starting in every game so the 22-year-old must make the most of this opportunity.