2019-2020 I-league Round 1: Ready, Steady, Go!

thebeautifulgamethebeautifulgame Durgapur,India29808 Points
edited November 2019 in I league
It's that time of the year again when the entire country is in the grip of football mania. The 13th edition of the Hero I-League is all set to kick off on November 30, 2019. Although the League will not be the top-tier competition in Indian football for the first time since its inception, in terms of sheer unpredictability, competitiveness, fan support and pan-Indian presence, the I-League remains the football tournament of the country. The I-league has witnessed many a fairy tale in recent years, with underdogs like Aizawl FC, Minerva Punjab and Chennai City FC triumphing in the previous three editions. This year, the league will comprise of 11 teams--Chennai City FC, Punjab FC, Aizawl FC, Neroca FC, East Bengal, Mohun Bagan,, Gokulam Kerala FC, Churchill Brothers FC, Indian Arrows, Real Kashmir FC and new entrants TRAU FC, winner of the I-league Second division last season. This time all the matches will be broadcast on DSport with live streaming on Jio TV The prize money for the winners will be Rs. 1 crore this year with the runners-up, third placed and fourth placed teams getting Rs. 60 lakhsRs. 40 lakhs and Rs. 25 lakhs respectively.

The I-league will commence on Saturday, November 30, with a double header, Mohun Bagan taking on Aizawl FC at Aizawl while Gokulam Kerala squares off against Nercoa FC later in the evening. Mohun Bagan have a revamped squad this season, having roped in the Spanish contingent of Francisco Morante, Francisco Gonzalez, Joseba Beitia and Julen Colinas while signing veterans like Dhanachandra Singh, Ashutosh Mehta and youngsters like Sk. Sahil, Subha Ghosh and Jesuraj. They have not had an impressive pre-season, finishing second in the CFL and coming a cropper in the Durand Cup and Sheikh Kamal International Cup in Bangladesh. It is to be seen how Spanish tactician Kibu Vicuna marshalls his resources and ensures that his team plays to its potential. Aizawl FC have been a pale shadow of their former self ever since they won the League three years back, floundering in mid-table mediocrity in the last two seasons. However, things have looked brighter under the coaching of Stanley Rosario, with the team currently occupying the top spot in the Mizoram Premier League. Although a number of first team regulars from last season like Kromah, Kareem Nurain and Leonce Dodoz have left the club, a number of promising youngsters led by their inspirational captain Alfred Jaryan would look to test might Bagan in their home ground. Gokulam Kerala are one of the strongest contenders this season. They have won the Durand Cup and entered the semi-finals of the Sheikh Kamal International Cup. Boasting one of the strongest forward lines in the League with Henry Kisseka and Marcus Joseph who seems to be in the form of his life, they would look to go all the way this time around. Neroca FC have one of the weakest squads on paper. They have let go of their highest goalscorer of last season, Felix Chidi as well as Katsumi Yusa and although they have made eight new signings, it is doubtful if they would provide too much of an opposition to the Malabarians.

Churchill Brothers would clash with Punjab FC while defending champions Chennai City would meet newbie TRAU FC on the next day, December 1. Churchill Brothers, the only team from Goa in the I-League, have been enjoying a good spell in the domestic circuit, currently leading the Goa Professional League. They would be missing the services of Ugandan international Khalid Aucho and Hussein Eldor as well as Wayne Vaz and Chesterpoul Lyngdoh among the Indian players, but they would be reckoning on their prolific goalscorer, Willis Plaza and Lalkhawpuimawia--one of the stars of Aizawl last season-- to deliver the goods for them. Punjab FC had a forgettable outing last season, finishing tenth among the eleven teams. They would led by a new coach this time--the youngest AFC "A" License holder Ian Law. Having signed a host of new foreign players like Dipanda Dicka, Teah Dennis, Danilo and experienced Indian campaigner Sanju Pradhan, they would look to reverse their fortunes in the new season. Chennai City vs Trau FC might be dubbed the battle of unequals. Although influential playmaker Nestor Gordillo has left the team and the defence has been somewhat weakened by the absence of the likes of Edwin Vanspaul and Guarav Bora, Chennai City have enough firepower in their attack--further strengthened by the acquisition of Katsumi Yusa and Fido Miranda-- to trouble any team on a given day. TRAU FC would be banking on the unknown factor. Comprising a bunch of I-league veterans and some foreigners who have been untested in the league, they would have to play out of their skins to earn even one point against their mighty rivals.

The league concludes with a match between East Bengal and Real Kashmir on December 04 at Kalyani Stadium, Kalyani. It will be a final shot at glory for the Kolkata giants as they are expected to move to a different league next season. However, things have not been rosy for Alexandro Menendez and his boys as they finished third in the CFL and put in a lacklustre performance in the Durand Cup. They have been haunted by goalkeeping problems this season too. The frontline does not look too settled as Marcos Espada is only finding his feet in Indian football while Ronaldo Oliviera and Vidyasagar Singh are yet to be tested on the big stage. The wing halfs Colado, Juan Mera and Pintu Mahata are the real sparks and bring in creativity in midfield and attack. The Kolkata club would meet their match in Real Kashmir. Playing functional rather than eye-pleasing football, David Robertson's team has shown that they are very difficult to break down and will certainly pose some headaches to the Red and Gold brigade

Bye: Indian Arrows

Saturday, 30 November, 2019
Aizawl FC vs Mohun Bagan (14:00, Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, Aizawl)
Gokulam Kerala FC vs Neroca FC (19:00, EMS Corporation Stadium, Kozhikode)

Sunday, 01 December, 2019
Churchill Brothers vs Punjab FC (17:00, Tilak Maidan, Goa)
Chennai City FC vs TRAU FC (19:00, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Coimbatore)

Wednesday, 04 December, 2019
East Bengal vs Real Kashmir FC (17:00, Kalyani Stadium, Kalyani)
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