Five talking points from Federation Cup group stage

Pune FC's poor run continues, missed penalties, Armando Colaco's bad luck and much more...
 Atanu Mitra
 COMMENT | India
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After an exciting set of matches, four clubs deservedly made it to the semi-finals of the 35th Federation Cup. There are several lessons learned and Goal lists down some of the important ones here:

1. The prospect of I-League becoming more competitive

The nation's top tier competition has been very competitive this year with only a slender margin differentiating the top and bottom placed teams. The group stages of the Federation Cup saw the teams from the lower half of the I-League table perform better than those in the top three.

Since the sacking of Bola Masood, Mohammedan Sporting played their first competitive fixtures in a national competition and were unbeaten in their three matches. Arthur Papas’ Dempo SC too have been in good form as they conceded just once, alongside Mohun Bagan.

The Mariners seem to have made amends to their woeful form in the league which could have seen coach Karim Bencherifa being handed the pink slip, less than a month back.

Rangdajied United too played their part as they held East Bengal and Bengaluru FC to a draw.

Churchill look a different side altogether

The biggest surprise package has been Churchill Brothers as they have recovered from their horrible I-League outing and were the first to book a semi-final berth. Interestingly they only have two foreign players on their roster.

Some of the above mentioned teams have strengthened their squad and that has played a vital role in their recovery.

Arthur Papas, the Dempo gaffer also conceded the point and stressed that performing consistently in the league requires more consistency.

"I-League has shown this year that on any given day the difference between the teams higher up the ladder compared to lower does not guarantee a given result. In general all the teams in lower half of the I-League have significantly altered their squads and also I consider consistency to be the bigger issue in the league whereas the Federation Cup is about the team who can cope the best over two weeks with all the variables," he told Goal.

2. Pune FC not ready for the continental challenge

Pune FC earned the opportunity to play the AFC Champions League play-offs this month, after fulfilling the club licensing criterion and having finished second in the I-League last term. The club is set to face Vietnam’s Hanoi T&T in the first round on 29th January in their home ground. But their form in the Federation Cup has cast major doubts over their chances in the continental competition.

Pune FC need to pull up their socks

Mike Snoei's men failed to notch up a single victory in the group stages and a draw against the second division outfit Eagles FC was their best result in the tournament. The Red Lizards finished their sojourn with a single point and were placed at the bottom of their group. This fact should not go unnoticed that Pune have won only one of their last 9 matches if we take the combined statistics of the I-League and the Federation Cup into consideration.

The team looked wasteful in the opponent box and the defending has also been below par recently, especially after the team had conceded only three goals in their first eight I-League encounters.

3. Many teams forced to pay penalty

The conversion rate from the penalty box was horrible in this edition of the Federation Cup as a number of high-profile footballers failed to put the ball into the back of the net from 12 yards. The highlight of the trend was witnessed in the East Bengal - Bengaluru FC match, when the Sean Rooney and Sunil Chhetri missed one penalty each to squander their chances of sealing a semi-final berth.

Rooney also missed one

Apart from these two, Chidi Edeh, Penn Orji and Boima Karpeh missed spot-kicks for their sides and in the first two cases, the squandered opportunity proved to be vital in deciding their fate in the tournament. The players who didn't mess up the chances are Ryuji Sueoka, Odafa Okolie, Gilbert Oliveira and Cornell Glen.

4. Colaco's 'bad omen' in Fed Cup continues

East Bengal have been the most successful team in the Federation Cup in recent times, having won four of the last six editions and finishing runners-up once. The last time they failed to enter the last four was back in 2006-07, when a solitary Ranti Martins goal helped Armando Colaco's Dempo get the better of them in the quarter-finals.

Colaco has won the Federation Cup just once during his reign at Dempo SC. Goal had raised a question earlier as to whether the Goan coach’s misfortune in the said tournament would be contagious and haunt East Bengal. It seems it has as East Bengal failed to top the group in their bid to enter the last four.

East Bengal lost its footing 

“I am a bad omen to East Bengal [in the Federation Cup], because when I got the Federation Cup remember Cristiano Junior had died. Thereafter, I never fared well in the Federation Cup. Maybe that omen continues with me. Now there is nothing else that we can do. So we will focus on the I-League,” Colaco observed.

5. Majestic Manjeri and shabby Kochi

The two venues of the group stages in Kerala brought contrasting pictures of Indian football as a paltry attendance greeted the competition in Kochi, while the matches in Manjeri were played in front of chock-a-block stands. The infrastructure in Kochi was also below par and that even infuriated Wim Koevermans, the gaffer of the Indian national team.

“It’s disappointing. Football is serious business. It’s the most popular sport in the world. I don’t think we are taking it seriously. There is money, it can be done. Then why are we not doing it?” he vented out his despair after having a look at the terrible training grounds provided to the teams.

While the huge gathering of Manjeri was one of the highlights about this edition of the Federation Cup, the empty stands and shoddy organization in Kochi epitomized the sorry state of Indian football.

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