Dempo’s application to the fore

A jubilant Dempo Sports Club after being crowned the I-League champion.-S. RAMESH KURUP

The inaugural I-League, involving the top 10 teams in the country, produced plenty of excitement and ripples. S. R. Suryanarayan reports.

Be that as it may, the inaugural I-League, involving the top 10 teams in the country, witnessed a remarkable finish. Penalty shoot-outs might be a bane for the teams, but for the fans they are still the most sought after spectacle. To that extent, I-League’s finish, which went down to the wire, provided enough excitement and ripples. That Dempo Sports Club, Goa, won the title and pocketed Rs. 50 lakh on ‘better goal difference’ after it tied on points with another Goan outfit, Churchill Brothers, should give a glimpse of how close the race was for the top honours.

Dempo’s ability to maintain

How much this affected the morale of Dempo was reflected in the team’s next outing in Kolkata where it went down to East Bengal. The result came as a lifeline for the Kolkata club, while it brought misery to Dempo as it was the Goan team’s second defeat in a row following its loss to Mahindra United.

Dempo’s defeat to East Bengal was self-inflicted with Mahesh Gawli, who was later named the best defender of the League, clearing a ball into his own net.

Having dropped points Dempo’s position at the top was in jeopardy. Its victory against JCT next provided some relief, and the team had to thank Climax Lawrence for the win. Lawrence scored a brace of goals after Sunil Chetri had given the Phagwara side an early lead.

The three draws for Dempo thereafter enabled Churchill Brothers to catch up and the final round saw both teams equal on points at 33 though the goal difference was in favour of the defending champion. That advantage proved crucial for Dempo in the final analysis, as it swamped Viva Kerala 4-1 while Churchill Brothers beat Air India 3-0.

While there was so much excitement about Dempo’s progress, the fortunes of East Bengal and Mohun Bagan aroused a lot of curiosity. Whoever would have thought East Bengal would almost sink to the relegation zone? The Kolkata giant faced the prospect of going down, but came back from the brink to remain in the elite panel.

East Bengal’s coach Subrata Bhattacharya resigned after the team’s 0-3 loss to JCT in the 11th round. Former star defender Manoranjan Bhattacharya took over as the next coach but luck continued to desert East Bengal with Mohun Bagan handing it a 2-0 defeat. With relegation looming large, East Bengal recovered by beating Mahindra 1-0 with Syed Rahim Nabi’s 5th minute goal.

Mohun Bagan fared only marginally better, thanks to the consistent performance of its forward-line featuring India captain Baichung Bhutia and Brazilian Jose Barreto. The Mohun Bagan attack got better with the coach, Calros Pereira, successfully using P. Lalawmpuia as a super-sub.

The one interesting aspect of East Bengal was that champion Dempo could never beat it. Both matches it played against Dempo were significant. The first match (round 4) ended in a goalless draw, which brought Dempo down from top flight. In the second (round 13) Dempo lost 1-0 which virtually brightened the chances of Churchill Brothers and JCT.

For the lone team from the south, Viva Kerala, it was a big disappointment as it crashed out along with Salgaocar of Goa. Not that the expectations from this Kerala outfit were high, but the team had begun promisingly, registering a win against Mohun Bagan in Kolkata.

“Lack of good players on the bench was our main problem,” the coach, A. M. Sreedharan, confessed. “We also missed the service of a striker like P. K. Anil Kumar, who had played a big role in helping us make the grade from the Second Division last year.”

The only gains for Viva in the season were C. S. Saleel and K. V. Lalu. The two youngsters worked hard and are sure to go a long way. Ebin Rose too looked impressive at times, but he has to be played as a forward, not a defender. In a team that struggled to score, it was strange to see him play at the back for most part of the League.

SCORERS LIST

SANDEEP SAXENA

1. Odofe Onyaka Okolie (in pic) (Churchill Brothers) 22

2. Eduardo da Silva Escobar (JCT) 14

3. Mboyo Iyomi (East Bengal) & Ranty Martins Solaye (Dempo) 12

4. Baichung Bhutia (Mohun Bagan) 9

5. Chidi Edeh (Dempo) & Edmilson Marques Pardal (East Bengal) 8

SPECIAL AWARDS Fairplay: Dempo SC

Best coach (S. A. Rahim Trophy): Armando Colaco (Dempo)

Most valuable player: Odafe Onyaka Okolie (Churchill Brothers)

Best goalkeeper: Subrata Paul (East Bengal)

Best defender (Jarnail Singh Award): Mahesh Gawli (Dempo)

Best mid-fielder: Climax Lawrence (Dempo)

Best forward: Odafe Onyaka Okolie (Churchill Brothers).

(With inputs from Amitabha Das Sharma and P. K. Ajith Kumar)