New Delhi: There has been a slight change in plans for Mohammedan Sporting as they prepare to embark on their campaign to break into the National Football League’s first division for the first time.
A change in the fixtures of the final leg of the NFL’s second division means they will kick off versus Air India, Mumbai on April 24 instead of SBT, as had initially been planned.
While hitherto the fixtures were determined according to the positions of the clubs in the qualifying rounds at Jamshedpur and Thiruvananthapuram, an All India Football Federation (AIFF) directive meant a draw of lots was held in front of the four contestants to determine the fixtures for the final phase.
In preparation for tenacious Air India, the Calcutta giants had an intensive training session and later from Banga Bhavan, where the accommodation had upset the players, to a local hotel.
On the opening day’s action on Wednesday, SBT play Haywards Sporting, Goa and a fast paced match is anticipated as both sides have a potent attack.
Meanwhile, Mohammedan Sporting coach Mohammed Habeeb is unfazed by the change in fixtures but is unhappy that his club’s last match, against SBT, will now not be played at the Ambedkar Stadium.
Apparently, the holding of matches simultaneously on April 29, the last day has been done to avoid match fixing. And Tuesday’s draw of lots determined that Mohammedan Sporting’s match will be held at a different venue in Delhi.
What has Habeeb concerned is that his team would be playing on an unknown surface and would enjoy limited crowd support. Incidentally, most of the Mohammedan’s supporters stay near the Ambedkar Stadium and may not travel to the other stadiums, which are at quite far.
To make matters worse, the Delhi Soccer Association (DSA) has been unable to finalise the alternate venue, as a local cricket tournament is being held at the Nehru Stadium. If it remains unavailable, Mohammedan Sporting’s last fixture will be held in Chhatrasaal stadium, in North Delhi (three matches in the 1982 Asian Games were held there).
Another factor is the presence of foreigners. Of the four teams in the fray, the two institutional sides — Air India and SBT — have no foreigners in their squads. Haywards have three, strikers Dudu Omagbemi, and Amaechi Nwabunwane from Nigeria and midfielder Khalid Suleiman from Sudan.
Mohammedan Sporting will fill their quota of three foreigners by choosing from defender Habib Adekunle (Nigeria), midfielders Ishau Yora (Ghana) and Eugene Grey (Liberia) and striker Awal Ibrahim(Ghana).
April 23: SBT vs Haywards Sporting; April 24: Mohammedan Sporting vs Air India; April 25: Rest day; April 26: SBT vs Air India; April 27: Mohammedan Sporting vs Haywards Sporting; April 28: Rest day; April 29: Air India vs Haywards Sporting; Mohammedan Sporting vs SBT (At Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium or Chhatrasal Stadium)