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I-League 2019-20 Round 1 Roundup [30/11-04/12]

I-League 2019-20 Round 1
Churchill Brothers FC players celebrate after Lalkhawpuimawia’s (#24)
spectacular goal against Punjab FC in the opening round
of the 2019/20 I-League. Photo Courtesy: I-League

The 2019-20 edition of the I-League kicked off on November 30. There was a distinct lack of fanfare, especially after it was stripped of its status of the top tier competition in the country.

Of course, there was uncertainty over the state of the league over the past few months. There were rumors that a few clubs might drop out. Aizawl FC, the 2016-17 champion had to tweet about their participation.

Then there was the late announcement of the dates a little over a month from Matchday 1. As expected, the preparations of the 11 clubs have been hampered. With little time to get the squads in shape for the season which will end in April.

After the hullabaloo about the telecast in the previous season, the AIFF announced the broadcasters for the 2019/20 season less than three weeks before Matchday 1. It’s DSport, in case you are unaware.

Nonetheless, here we are.

Defending champions Chennai City FC will defend their title against the challenges of traditional powerhouses like East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, and Churchill Brothers.

The North-East trio of Aizawl FC, NEROCA FC, and TRAU FC will provide stiff opposition away from home.

Next-door neighbors, Gokulam Kerala FC lifted the Durand Cup earlier this year, much to the delight of their fervent fanbase, while the kids from Indian Arrows can give any team a run for their money.

Then the challengers from the north: Real Kashmir, who finished a credible 3rd in their debut season and 2017/18 champions Punjab FC form the 11 teams this season.

The hardest steel is forged in the hottest fires. The I-League will continue to produce hard-fought matches for their fans across the country and keep the heart of Indian football beating for another year.

The I-League table at the end of the opening round.
Goalless at Aizawl

FULL TIME: Aizawl FC 0 – 0 Mohun Bagan AC

The league kicked-off at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, Aizawl, where a gritty display by the hosts held Mohun Bagan to a goalless draw.

Mohun Bagan, the perennial contenders, had to contend with Aizawl’s cautious approach to the game. Both teams played with a lone striker upfront and packed their sides with midfielders. Not surprisingly, both teams mustered only three shots on target.

Aizawl will take the point in the opening and aim to wrap up semifinals of the Mizoram Premier League, while Mohun Bagan will see this as two points dropped.

Kisseka and Marcus Joseph on target as Gokulam open their account

FULL TIME: Gokulam Kerala FC 2 – 1 NEROCA FC
GOKULAM KERALA: (Henry Kisseka 43′, Marcus Joseph 49′); NEROCA FC: (Taryk Sampson 88′)

At the EMS Corporation Stadium, Kozhikode, Gokulam Kerala chalked up three points with a 2-1 win over NEROCA FC.

Henry Kisekka returned to his former club to score the first goal of the league in the 43rd minute. Durand Cup Golden Boot winner, Marcus Joseph, also opened his account in the 49th minute with a header.

Taryk Sampson’s acrobatic bicycle kick pulled one back in the 88th minute, but the comeback was not in sight. Especially when 31,000 home fans act as the 12th man.

These Malabarians love their football, don’t they?

Mapuia spectacular as Churchill brush off Punjab 

FULL TIME: Churchill Brothers FC 3 – 0 Punjab FC
CHURCHILL BROTHERS FC: (Lalkhawpuimawia 45+’, 81′, Willis Plaza 70′)

Churchill Brothers shook off their see-sawing form in the Goa Professional League with a 3-0 win over Punjab FC 3-0 at the Fatorda Stadium, Margao.

Punjab FC is the new avatar of Minerva Punjab who dropped the Minerva moniker after a partnership with Round Glass Sports Private Ltd.

Round Glass Punjab FC? Looks like Ranjit Bajaj made the right choice with the name there. Speaking of the maverick owner here’s a good read on Mr Bajaj.

As for the match, it was all Churchill. Last season’s joint top-scorer, Willis Plaza opened his account for this season with a strike in the 70th minute. Plaza’s strike partner Lalkhawpuimawia (Mapuia) bagged himself a brace.

The Mizo’s second goal was a treat to watch. A first-time acrobatic volley off an Israil Gurung crossfield pass left Punjab FC goalkeeper stranded in no man’s land.

The Red Machines have now scored 700 goals in the NFL/I-League. Only East Bengal has scored more – besides Churchill Brothers missed three editions of the erstwhile top Indian football league.

New boy Fito wins it for Chennai City

FULL TIME: Chennai City FC 1 – 0 TRAU FC
CHENNAI CITY FC: (Adolfo Miranda 50′)

Chennai City FC began their title defense at Coimbatore’s Nehru Stadium. New signing Adolfo ‘Fito’ Miranda’s strike in the 50th minute sealed a narrow 1-0 victory over newly-promoted TRAU FC.

Pedro Manzi and new signing Katsumi Yusa were pivotal in all of Chennai City’s attacks. While the defense looked rock solid, it might only be a matter of a game or two before Akbar Mawaz’s men will find their rhythm in attack.

Real Kashmir stand tall against East Bengal

FULL TIME: East Bengal FC 1 – 1 Real Kashmir FC
EAST BENGAL FC: (Marcos Jiminez Espada 77′); REAL KASHMIR (Gnohore Krizo 33′)

East Bengal and Real Kashmir played out a 1-1 draw at the Kalyani Stadium, Kolkata.

Boosted by the signings of Kallum Michael Higginbotham from the Scottish Championship team Dunfermline AFC and Singham Subash Singh, Real Kashmir stuck to their strengths. Playing on the counter and the ploy worked when Krizo put the visitors ahead in the 33rd minute.

East Bengal’s centenary year celebrations have not gone according to plan so far. They failed to win the Calcutta Football League and the Durand Cup. Despite dominating the match, the Red and Gold equalized through Marcos Jiminez Espada in the 77th minute.

Davis Robertson’s Real Kashmir are adept at soaking up the pressure and at the final whistle, it was the visitors who were the happier of the two teams. The repeat of last season’s scoreline will annoy the East Bengal faithful.

Video killed the football star

After an uproar over the lack of quality broadcast in the 2018/19 season, the broadcasters, Star Sports, decided against airing all the matches on TV midway through the season. Then there were the issues of the timings where the matches were scheduled at 2 and 5 pm in the afternoon.

To avoid the fiasco, AIFF signed a three-year deal with DSport to broadcast the I-League matches.

The result? Poor production, shoddy camerawork, feed cutting off to another match midway, and to top it all, the failure to broadcast the Gokulam Kerala-NEROCA FC match due to “technical issue”.

The Mizoram Premier League provided a far superior broadcasting experience, but then they have been at it for a few years now.

Let’s hope that DSport gets their act together – for their sake and ours.  

Mohun Bagan-Churchill Brothers in the next round

The next round will feature the first North-Eastern derby when NEROCA travel to Aizawl. Indian Arrows will start their campaign at home against Gokulam Kerala, while Minerva Punjab FC will host East Bengal.

The heavyweight clash is between Mohun Bagan and Churchill Brothers at Kolkata.

The matches will take place between the 6th and 8th of December.

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