Calcutta: Bengaluru FC are close to becoming the first team to win the I-League on debut but will have to negotiate a tricky campaign in Goa.
The Airtel I-League leaders need a win from any of their last two matches in Goa, but knowing the way Bengaluru have approached their campaign, coach Ashley Westwood will not leave anything to chance in the concluding league game.
Bengaluru will look to settle the title race in their favour with victory against Dempo at the Nehru Stadium, in Margao, Goa, on Monday.
In another match of the day, Rangdajied United FC will have their task cut out at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Shillong, as they encounter Lajong FC in the last Shillong Derby of the I-League this season. The match will be the last match for Rangdajied in the current season, and just a draw will see them avoid relegation and stay in the elite league.
In the last Derby held in November last year, the two sides managed to settle for a draw.
Bengaluru lead the title race with 41 points while East Bengal (40 points) and Salgaocar (38 points) are also in contention for the biggest prize in Indian football.
“I don’t think they (Bengaluru) will slip up and now they will be in the mood,” East Bengal coach Armando Colaco said after his team lost quite unexpectedly against Churchill Brothers and handed the advantage to Bengaluru.
Not that Bengaluru needed any favours. They continue to be masters of their own destiny.
It has all worked fine for Bengaluru so far in the league, but at the other end Dempo will be lying in wait. Dempo have been one of the more impressive Goan teams in the second phase and should provide more than just healthy competition to the visitors.
Arthur Papas’ side have undergone a massive transformation in the second phase, winning most of their matches.
“Our challenge is to match the motivation and ambition of Bengaluru as they are fighting to win the championship and their players will be very determined,” said Dempo coach Arthur Papas.
“Bengaluru have led the league all season and set the standard for results on the field and as a club off the field. They have brought an increased level of professionalism to the I-League which can only be good,” said the Australian coach.
Bengaluru got the better of Dempo 3-1 at home but Papas believes that is hardly an advantage for the visitors.
“We are a different team from the first time we played; our style of football is now more ingrained and has become more efficient due to the players that arrived as the season progressed. Our second half of the season has been as good as any team at the top,” concluded Papas.
Monday’s match will be very important for Rangdajied as they along with Churchill Brothers and Mohammedan Sporting are languishing at the bottom of the table. Anything short of a draw or a win would probably see Herring Shangpliang’s boys suffer the drop provided Churchill Brothers and Mohammedan Sporting are able to turn their fortunes in their final matches.
The mood in these parts of the country is upbeat. If Rangdajied manage to avoid relegation, there will be three teams from this region in the next season of the I-League.