The fates of Aizawl FC, Mohun Bagan and possibly the rest of the I-League will be decided this weekend.
As the title race goes down to the wire, Bagan might be three points behind Aizawl but find themselves having an easier assignment than their title rivals, hosting Chennai City FC at home.
The Mizos from the Northeast are on the verge of something unprecedented and must face regional rivals Shillong Lajong for that elusive point. From relegation to the top of the table, it has been one topsy-turvy, gutsy underdog journey which has seen the season come alive.
The talking points from the I-League final weekend:
- The AIFF’s decision to send an integrity officer for the Lajong versus Aizawl clash was on the balance of it, a necessary call to ensure the fairness of the whole affair. What remains to be seen, however, is whether the federation will send an official to the Bagan-CCFC match. It also begs the question whether similar arrangements would have been made if Mumbai FC and DSK Shivajians, or Bengaluru and CCFC had faced each other with one of them vying for the title.
- Khalid Jamil is without two of his key players in Ashutosh Mehta and Alfred Jaryan. Mehta, who accompanied Jamil to Aizawl from Mumbai FC has been one of the better fullbacks in the league and will be missed. Jaryan, a reconverted midfielder has pulled the strings ably for Khalid’s men. Aizawl have displayed resilience this season but this tie has the potential to turn into a banana skin for the Mizos. Lajong’s 3-1 win last season in the corresponding fixture may weigh on the visitors’ minds.
- Thangboi Singto has indicated that his Lajong team are perfectly happy to be the villains and will go for a win. Lajong, the torch-bearers for Northeast football in the modern day and age, are on the verge of being usurped by Aizawl who played their first I-League season in 2016. They are fifth, which will be their highest ever finish and will look to finish this campaign on a high. They have been sloppy at times but will be no pushovers. The visibility of football in the Northeast has never been higher and it is time for AIFF to strike, in a positive fashion.
- For Sanjoy Sen, his Bagan team have given up the AFC Cup in order to win the I-League. Their 1-0 loss against Aizawl knocked the wind out of the sails of Bagan who had been in terrific form till last game. They have no option but to go all out for a win and even then, it may not be enough. Hope and Lajong are Bagan’s best friends at the moment. The title race is no longer in their hands.
- But it might be in Chennai City’s hands. The newbies from the South have won only one on the road all season but a draw here will render the Northeast derby inconsequential and crown Aizawl champions. A 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Churchill Brothers would have stung but it made a tiny footnote in the larger picture that was qualification for their first Federation Cup. They cannot finish any lower than eighth.
- Bengaluru FC have their sights set firmly on the AFC Cup but have won their last three I-League games, thrashing DSK 7-0 in their last encounter. Whatever happens in their last game, they will finish in fourth and Albert Roca will hope that it is a pleasant ending to what has been a trying campaign, as they look forward to bigger battles in Asia.
- Churchill snapped a three-game winless streak with a comprehensive display against CCFC at Tilak Maidan. They defeated the defending champions 2-1 in the reverse fixtures but have little to play for, as they can only finish sixth. Derrick Pereira’s side cannot be relegated and will look forward to the Federation Cup.
- Mumbai FC will bring to an end a nine-year stint in the top league, as their former manager stands on the cusp of a league title. New coach Oscar Bruzon has managed three draws in his first three games but they will be relegated as bottom-placed Minerva Punjab are immune from relegation. There is only one word to describe Mumbai’s campaign: chaos and East Bengal may not be the most sympathetic visitors on the last matchday at the Cooperage.
- The Red-and-Golds will be ruing gameweeks 13-17, having picked up just three points from their last five games. An almost certain title win has spectacularly unravelled, and things have just gone from bad to worse as East Bengal have imploded in the face of a straightforward title run-in. It will be 13 years without a title and the Lal Holud have some major answering to do, merger or not.
- Amidst reports of unpaid salaries, DSK’s loss to Bengaluru took the spotlight off what has been an improvement from Dave Roger’s team. Prior to last weekend, Shivajians hadn’t conceded more than thrice in a game this season. Against bottom-placed Minerva, they will hope to sign off with a win.
- Minerva have toiled in their first season in the big league but they have had their moments, including a 2-2 draw against Aizawl which may still prove pivotal in the context of the title race. A win against DSK may still see them finish ahead of Mumbai FC and a young team will look forward to the next season.