Stripped off its top-tier status, the 2019-20 edition of I-League began with little fanfare on Saturday. After months of drama off the field, the I-League clubs though would be glad to finally get down to business.
However, the league got off to a rather underwhelming start as Mohun Bagan considered one of the contenders for the title could only muster a drab goalless draw away to Aizawl FC.
In the second game, Gokulam Kerala one of the teams on the rise in the build-up to the new season proved their credentials after recording a 2-1 win over Imphal-based Neroca FC at home.
On Sunday, Churchill Brothers laid down an early marker beating Punjab FC 3-0 at the Fatorda before defending champions Chennai City FC began their title defence with a narrow 1-0 victory over newly-promoted TRAU FC at Coimbatore.
The remaining sides are expected to play through the coming week with East Bengal hosting Real Kashmir FC on Wednesday.
But as we wrap the opening weekend of the action, here are some of the key talking points.
There was quite an uproar over the lack of quality broadcast for the I-League last season as Star Sports, the broadcaster then decided against airing the games on TV in January. Hence, ahead of the new season, the I-League clubs along with IMG-Reliance zeroed in on DSport as their new broadcaster.
However, if the first round of matches is anything to go by then fans are going to find it extremely difficult to enjoy the football on show. The picture quality is extremely low. The camerapersons don’t seem to have a great deal of experience in covering a football game. A lot of times the cameras zoomed in on the player having the possession of the ball leaving the viewers with no clue about the movement elsewhere on the field. The transitions from one camera angle to the other were abrupt, giving the viewer a rather jerky experience throughout the games.
However, the lowest point of the broadcast mishap happened when DSport failed to telecast the match between Gokulam Kerala and Neroca FC due to some technical glitch. The I-League was quick to assure the fans that this was a one-off, but on Sunday the quality of broadcast remained quite poor for a competition that could possibly supply players to the national team.
Gokulam Kerala fans light up the occasion
The I-League’s relegation to the second tier of Indian football doesn’t seem to have affected the fans of Gokulam Kerala one bit as they turned up in large numbers at the EMS Stadium in Kozhikode to support their team in their season opener.
The big turnout made it a cracking atmosphere in Kozhikode as the home side registered a victory. The fans cheered their team on despite the rain from which they had no protection from as the stadium doesn’t have a roof.
But it didn’t matter as the fans proved to be the team’s 12th man.
Gokulam who won the Durand Cup earlier in the year are considered by many to be contenders for the crown. If they manage to have a similar turnout in all their games, teams would find it hard to get a result in Kozhikode, thus boosting their push at the top end of the table.
Churchill Brothers’ milestone
Former champions Churchill Brothers, the only Goan team in the I-League, got off to a brilliant start in the new campaign beating Punjab FC 3-0.
Lalkhawpuimawia was the start of the show for the Goans as he netted a brace to help his side move to the top of the standings after the first round.
In the process, Churchill Brothers became just the second Indian club side to score 700 Indian top-flight goals after East Bengal.
The Goan side had a rich history in the competition, winning it for the first time in 2008-09 before emulating that feat again four years later. Churchill Brothers have finished runners-up on five occasions in Indian football and have contributed some fine players to the league over the years.
Mohun Bagan falter
Fancied to end their four-year wait for the I-League title, Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan could only manage a 0-0 draw against Aizawl FC in their season opener.
Both coaches, Kibu Vicuna of Mohun Bagan and Stanley Rozario of Aizawl packed their sides with midfielders indicating a cautious approach to begin their campaign.
Bagan had Suhair VP as the lone striker upfront while Rozario played William Lalnunfela ahead of a six-man midfield. The visitors pressed hard from the get-go.
However, apart from a few exciting moments, there was no joy for Mohun Bagan in Aizawl. This is the second straight season when the Mariners have failed to win their opening game of the season. Having finished in fifth place last season, Mohun Bagan fans will be expecting an improvement in their next game.