Here is a roundup of the main talking points from the five I-League games over the weekend, as we saw them, in chronological order.
RoundGlass Punjab FC 0-0 Sudeva Delhi FC
Chencho vs Chenco headlined what was otherwise an unremarkable opening fixture for the week’s action. Chencho Gyaltshen is leading the line for Punjab while Chencho Dorji is the first Bhutanese head coach in the I-League. NewsClick’s Vaibhav Raghunandan spoke to people in Bhutan about the impact that the two expats are having on the game at home. You can read that full story here.
Chennai City 1-0 Indian Arrows
A draw with TRAU in their previous game underlined the fact that the young Arrows had enough to cause the odd upset in the I-League. Chennai, meanwhile, have shawn little to inspire confidence in their opening games of the season. As it turned out the game was an unremarkable affair ending in a narrow win for Chennai at the Kalyani Municipal Stadium. The difference between the sides was an Elvedin Skrijelj header in the 63rd minute. Skrijelj, a 6’4” defender from the town of Novi Pazar, is one of three Serbian players representing Chennai this season.
Churchill Brothers 1-1 TRAU FC
Punjab vs Sudeva may have been the out of country headliner, but back home the headline act had to be Churchill vs TRAU, the table toppers against the unbeaten pretenders. Churchill predictably got the opener via Clayvin Zuniga (his fifth goal in as many games) but conceded off a superb counterattack minutes later — Bidyasagar Singh finishing off a Komron Tursonov cross brilliantly. Churchill had an opportunity to extend their lead in the league, but have been stopped in their tracks. TRAU may not have done themselves very much good this season, but they’ve helped the league as a whole stay competitive.
Neroca FC 1-2 Aizawl FC
Make sense of Aizawl if you can. They lost to Punjab in the opener, drew against a team everyone else is probably going to get three points off (Indian Arrows), and have now beaten Gokulam Kerala and NEROCA. They sit second on the table with a game in hand over leaders Churchill and, therefore, the chance to cut the lead down to just a single point. For NEROCA the loss magnifies other happenings around the club. Already, issues over unpaid salaries can be heard even in casual conversation. This is not a uniquely Neroca situation as far as the current season of the I-League is concerned. If players and staff are to be believed, which they are, several teams are similarly slacking. The thing about a bio-bubble is that teams live as a collective, struggle as a collective and moan as one, too. The line between discontent, grumbling and protest is very fine. Watch this space closely.
Read More | I-League 2021: Thrillers, Spillers and a Gokulam Kerala Fight Back Fit for Folklore
Gokulam Kerala 0-0 Real Kashmir
Gokulam and Kashmir gave us another unsatisfactory goalless draw and another subplot. South Asian football diplomacy was in action, or at least the potential for some of that people-to-people contact. This time there were two Afghanistan internationals in the fray, one on either side. Haroon Amiri, a firebrand midfielder with Real Kashmir, is playing for his eighth club in India (!), having also previously spent time with Gokulam Kerala. Sharif Mukhammad, a calm ball playing defender is enjoying a relatively quiet debut season with Gokulam. Born in Makhachkala, Russia, Sharif made a handful of appearances for Anzhi in Russian top flight in the mid-2010s. You might remember Anzhi as the club that suddenly made a big splash with several signings including Brazilians Roberto Carlos and Willian (currently at Arsenal), Yuri Zhirkov, Samuel Eto’o and others. Highlights from the game? Amiri, typically, got involved in a loud, viewer-friendly fracas midway through the second half. Sharif stayed planted at the opposite end of the pitch.
This is how the table looks after Matchday 5 of the 2021 I-League season. Four teams remain unbeaten so far. (Source: www.i-league.org)