The 2020-21 season of the I-League got underway with Mohammedan SC edging past Sudeva Delhi FC 1-0 at the VYBK Stadium in Kolkata, West Bengal on Saturday.

Ali Faisal’s 58th-minute strike proved to be the difference between the two sides in a match that could have gone either way.

In other matches, Chennai City FC defeated Gokulam Kerala FC 2-1 in the Southern Derby at the Kalyani Municipal Stadium in Kolkata.

In an end-to-end clash that was electric from the first minute to the very end, Vijay Naggapan’s 50th-minute strike proved to be the difference between the two sides after Gokulam Kerala’s 3rd-minute strike by Dennis Antwi was cancelled out by Elvedin Skrijelj’s 26th-minute penalty.

Meanwhile, Punjab FC lived up to their expectation, defeating Aizawl FC 1-0 at the same stadium. Pritam Ningthoujam’s 18th-minute outside-of-the-box strike led RoundGlass Punjab FC to gather three points in a high-intensity match. Meanwhile, Aizawl FC created clear goal-scoring opportunities throughout the match but failed to finish, as they succumbed to defeat in the end.

Mohammedan SC win over debutants Sudeva Delhi FC

In a cagey first half, both teams appeared to be cautious of each other’s strengths while playing without exposing themselves to counter-attacks. Eventually, the tactics of the teams cancelled each other out in the middle of the park, with rare shots on goal.

Playing with an all Indian squad, Sudeva Delhi FC resorted to trying to unlock the defence of the Black Panthers by long balls.

Perhaps the best opportunity of the first half fell to Mohammedan SC in the 17th minute when Raphael Onwrebe missed a sitter in front of the goal after Suraj Rawat unleashed a delicious low cross into the box from the right flank.

With neither team committing men in attack and both teams playing with a deep backline, chance became few and rare. Kean Lewis on occasion tried to waltz past the Mohammedan defence but was kept at bay. In the 41st minute, Lewis tried to volley a cross from the right flank but hit it right into the ground. Skipper Ajay Singh, lurking in the box, failed to test the goalkeeper with his effort. The match was goalless at half-time.

Sudeva Delhi FC started to press in the second half, looking for leaks in Mohammedan’s defence. Ajay Singh, however, was left isolated at times playing as a lone striker upfront.

The breakthrough came much against the run of play for Mohammedan SC in the 58th minute when Ali Faisal pounced onto a defensive error by the Sudeva backline and slotted it into the back of the net. The sheer power of the strike beat custodian Rakshit Dagar, despite him getting a hand on the shot.

Sudeva Delhi FC went on the offensive and searched for the equaliser, committing bodies in attack to salvage points off the match. Kean Lewis’s cross in the 80th minute failed to find the head of a Sudeva player inside the box. Although half-chances came in plenty for the Delhi outfit, a clear goal-scoring opportunity failed to crop up.

Defensive solidity in the dying embers of the match by the Black Panthers aided in their grip over the match and eventually helped them to register their first win of the season as the full-time scoreline read 1-0 in Mohammedan’s favour.

Mohammedan FC clash against Churchill Brothers next on January 14 while Sudeva Delhi FC take on Indian Arrows on the same day.

Chennai City pip Gokulam Kerala in the Southern Derby

Gokulam Kerala FC wasted little time in formalities and got right into the thick of the action by taking the lead as early as the third minute. A quick corner caught the Chennai City FC defence off-guard and finished with Dennis Antwi striking home from close range to hand the Malabarians the lead.

In frantic opening minutes which witnessed end-to-end action, Chennai City FC’s Singaporean signing Iqubal came close to bagging an equalizer from a freekick in the 8th minute. Shortly after, Philip Adjah could have found the net for Gokulam FC but shot wide of the target from outside of the box.

The pairing of Philip Adjah and Dennis Antwi proved a handful for the Chennai defenders as both Ghanaians searched to extend Gokulam’s lead. But in the 26th minute, Chennai City FC’s Serbian import Vladimir Molerovic was brought down inside the box. The other Serbian import for Chennai, Elvedin Skrijelj, scored from the spot to level scores.

Perhaps Gokulam FC could have taken the lead going into half-time, but Dennis Antwi’s free-header in the 42nd minute when inches wide of the post as both teams went into the tunnel on level pegging.

It took Chennai City FC five minutes in the second half to find the net and take the lead. In the 50th minute, Vijay Naggapan played a delightful one-two with Demir Avdic to find the back of the net, as the scoreline read 2-1.

Vincent Barreto could have equalised the scores once again in the 55th minute when a wayward ball landed at his feet inside the box. Barreto, however, failed to find the net as Chennai City FC survived. Nine minutes later, Philip Adjah was put through on goal courtesy of a counter-attack, however, his outside of the boot shot was fisted aside by the goalkeeper.

Gokulam FC tried to find the equaliser but were held at bay time and again by the no-nonsense Chennai City defence which defended as a compact unit. Chennai City held on to their one-goal advantage and saw off the match, registering their first win of the Hero I-League.

In their next match, Gokulam Kerala FC face RoundGlass Punjab FC on January 14, while Chennai City FC will be against Real Kashmir FC on January 15.

Punjab FC edge past Aizawl FC

The early minutes of the match saw it played with a frantic pace and end-to-end action as both teams tried to build and take an early advantage. Aizawl FC started right off the blocks with high pressure and squeezed RoundGlass Punjab FC in their defending third.

In the 10th minute, Princewell Emeka tried to backheel a pass to an onrushing Brandon inside the box, whose shot was blocked, as Aizawl FC wasted a golden opportunity to go ahead.

Eight minutes later, the outcome was different for the Punjabi side. Off a failed clearance that fell his way, Pritam Ningthoujam unleashed a venomous strike from the outside of the box to hand the Punjab outfit a 1-0 lead, much against the run of play.

The goal changed the momentum of the match towards RoundGlass Punjab FC and shortly after, Chencho Gyeltshen could have doubled their lead had his touch inside the box been better after collecting a cross from the right flank.

With all the possession in the final third, Aizawl FC lacked creativity upfront and were easily diffused by Punjab’s defensive line. Despite dominating possession and pressing their opponents constantly, Aizawl FC did not have any goals to show for their performance going into half-time with the scoreline reading 1-0.

Aizawl FC did not lose hope, however. They picked up right from where they left in the second half and in the 47th minute, Princewell Emeka tried to overhead kick a cross but his attempt failed to even test the opposition custodian.

The Mizo side earned a golden opportunity to grab an equaliser in the 62nd minute after Alfred Jaryan was found inside the box by a low cross from the right flank. But from a tight angle and only the keeper to beat, his shot was blocked by a last-ditch tackle by the opponents.

Only a minute ago, the Liberian had missed a headed opportunity from the edge of the box. Shortly after, Brandon’s corner was met by Richard Kassaga’s head, forcing the keeper to make an easy save.

In the 70th minute, Joseba Beitia went for the spectacular and tried to find the net from more than 30 yards out after robbing the opponents of possession. His shot, however, did not test the goalkeeper and went wide.

Perhaps the best opportunity of the match fell to Aizawl’s Lalremsanga Fanai in the 73rd minute, when he was put right onto goal by a defence-splitting through-ball by Laldinpuia. Fanai, with only the goalkeeper to beat, fired his shot right at Kiran Chemjong, who kept the ball out and maintained his clean sheet.

That proved to be the last clear opportunity for Aizawl FC to salvage at least a point from the match. RoundGlass Punjab FC committed bodies in defence in an effort to safeguard their lead. The side from Mizoram tried to score an equalizer late in the match but their efforts were held off as Punjab held on to their slender lead and saw out the match to register their first win of the Hero I-League campaign.

In their next match, RoundGlass Punjab FC face Gokulam Kerala FC next on January 14 while Aizawl FC take on Gokulam Kerala FC next on January 20.