The current edition of the CFL has been one of the closest in recent times with three teams still having a mathematical chance of winning the league. The league is contested by eight clubs from Kolkata with the bottom placed team getting relegated to the Super Division. The league began on 8th July and after several rescheduling of matches due to poor ground conditions will end on 13th September. A refreshing change in the league has been the rule to include at least one U-19 player in the starting lineup.
Not surprisingly the top three teams are the ‘BIG THREE’ (Mohun Bagan, Mohammedan Sporting and East Bengal) of the Kolkata Maidan. Mohammedan Sporting has mounted a serious challenge to win their first title in 27 years; they are currently on second spot, three points behind Mohun Bagan.
Third placed East Bengal is six points behind the leaders and with two games remaining; they will need a miracle to win the title. As for Bagan, another four points will ensure them a second consecutive league title but with a superior goal difference, one more win may just be good enough. Kolkata’s other I-League representative, Chirag United have been a huge disappointment as they lie sixth in the table.
After getting promoted to the I-League many predicted Chirag to be the dark horse for the Kolkata League. But last season’s third placed team has failed to live up to the expectations and with just two wins they find themselves in sixth place. Inconsistency has been their biggest problem as they have shown glimpses of their ability in a few matches but have failed to convert draws into wins and defeats into draws.
A change of coach has helped them to restore some pride in the second half of the league. Subrata Bhattacharya after taking over from Anjan Nath has inspired Chirag to a draw against Mohun Bagan and a win against East Bengal. The key players for Chirag have been their two foreigners, defender Louis Ebami and striker Muritala Ali. But young midfielder and club captain Lal Malswama Hamar who has scored against both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal has been their best player.
Chirag don’t have much to play for, other than pride but they could still play a big part in the title race as they take on title hopefuls Mohammedan Sporting on the final day of the league.
The Red and Gold brigade has failed to put up a serious title challenge for the second consecutive season, this time they are likely to finish third. Even though they still stand a mathematical chance of winning the title, it’s been a largely disappointing campaign for the 31 time champions.
They made a very slow start to the campaign with a draw against George Telegraph in their second match followed by defeats against both their rivals Mohammedan and Mohun Bagan. In fact their defeat against Bagan was their sixth consecutive loss against them on local soil. They had been fourth for most parts of the first half of the league.
Coach Manoranjan Bhattacharya lamented the absence of national team players for their failure and promised a better showing once they came back. The return of six national team players rejuvenated East Bengal as they defeated Mohammedan to return to the title race. As they were appearing to make a late surge for the title they suffered a shock 0-1 defeat to Chirag which means the title is no longer in their hands.
The brief return to form for injury prone striker Ashim Biswas and the continuous improvement of young defender Nirmal Chettri has been few of the positives’ for East Bengal this season.
With two wins and favorable results elsewhere East Bengal could still win the title but what’s in their hands and what every East Bengal fan would be looking forward to is the match against Mohun Bagan on 12th September and anything less than a win would be unacceptable.
Mohammedan Sporting Club:
It is often said that results against other title contenders decides the fate of the title and Mohammedan have been largely successful in that respect. With two wins and a draw from four matches Mohammedan has fulfilled one aspect of a title race. But they haven’t performed with the same level of consistency against the lesser teams. They have lost to George Telegraph and drawn against Port Trust and Railway F.C. Results like these has meant that the title is no longer in their hands with two rounds of matches remaining.
Lack of depth in the squad and slight bad luck has been the few of the reasons for them being three points behind the leaders. Leading 1-0 against Bagan they were punished by a last minute equalizer from a controversial free kick and Coach Shabbir Ali feels like every season his team has been hard done by.
The striking duo of Mike Okoro and Theodore Sunday has been the key for the 11 time champions this season. The pair has 13 goals between them with Theodore scoring eight of them and is currently the joint top scorer.
With Mohun Bagan yet to play East Bengal, Mohammedan may still win the title with two wins from their two games if Bagan fails to pick up less than four points from their remaining games. Mohammedan have to win big as their goal difference is +7 compared to Bagan’s +12.
The defending champions have the title in their own hands and with two games to go its very much Bagan’s title to lose. Mohun Bagan has been largely consistent in the league but quite a few times they had to depend on late goals to win games.
But it was the late equalizer against Mohammedan which has been their most significant late goal in their league campaign. Mohun Bagan’s success is largely due to their perfect combination of youth and experience and Coach Karin Bencherifa who should be given a lot of credit for using it in the best possible way.
Young striker Lalwampuia has performed brilliantly in the absence of Indian captain Bhaichung Bhutia with eight goals in the campaign while evergreen Jose Ramirez Barreto has also came up with good performances scoring five and setting up many.
Another revelation for the 27 time champions has been their right back Habibur Rehman Mondal who has not only done well defensively but has also come up with two goals including that all important late equalizer against Mohammedan.
A win against George Telegraph on Tuesday would mean that Bagan only need a draw against arch rivals East Bengal in their last match but they would rather win the title by beating East Bengal for the seventh consecutive time in Kolkata.