BY FLAVIO LOPES
PANAJI: The opening round of sixth edition of I-League saw top teams battle it out in their opening encounters but ensured that it was a goal-fest with as many as 26 goals being produced in 7 matches.
Defending champions, Dempo SC started off their campaign with a 2-1 victory against local rivals Churchill Bros at PJN Stadium, Fatorda.
All eyes were on Dempo’s new signing Rohan Ricketts, the 29-year-old former Arsenal and Tottenham striker. However Ricketts failed to score in his debut match but definitely displayed a blend of premier league football. Japanese midfielder Ryuji Sueoka scored a brace for Dempo, the first in the second minute and then the winner in the 75th minute while Roberto Mendes Da Silva (Beto) had equalised for Churchill Brothers in the 47th minute.
Churchill Bros gave Dempo SC a very tough fight, and will definitely be hot title contenders.
Elsewhere in Gangtok, Goan outfit Salgaocar SC were stunned by debutants United Sikkim by a 3-2 margin. Salgaocar dominated the first half proceedings with United Sikkim holding a deep defensive line and relying on counterattacks.
Salgaocar SC twice took the lead in the second half but failed to maintain it, as Sandesh Jhingan rose imposingly to meet an Ashish Chettri free-kick to give United Sikkim a hard fought victory.
Sporting Clube de Goa, Goa’s fourth team in the I-League held Federation Cup champions, East Bengal to a goalless draw on October 7 at Fatorda. The Sporting side deserved much credit as they played gallantly without their foreign strike force of Ogba Kalu Nnanna and Keita Boubacar due to fitness issues.
On the other hand, East Bengal coach Trevor Morgan, named a strong starting eleven, with Uga Okpara and Arnab Mondal as the central defenders while Manandeep Singh played upfront alongside Edeh Chidi, while Penn Orji was allowed a free role behind the two strikers. Despite this East Bengal failed to score past a spirited Sporting defence who stepped up to the challenge.
Table toppers, Prayag United thrashed Air India 5-1 at Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday. Last season’s top goal-scorer, Ranti Martins continued his form with a hat-trick after his move from Dempo SC. Asif and Vineeth added their names on the score sheet as well, even after a Bello Rasaq red card in the 20th minute for Prayag.
Another major upset was a 2-0 defeat of Mohun Bagan at the hands of Shillong Lajong as they played a kick and rush football that exploited the visitors and gave them a tough time to regroup.
Pailan Arrows secured a 3-2 win over Mumbai FC at Kolkata. It was a welcome change to their fortunes given their struggles last season to register three points. The two teams took time to settle into the game as neither took the initiative to attack as the play was restricted to midfield. The match saw two miserable goalkeeping errors from both the keepers, first by Pailan keeper Ravi Kumar who failed to clear a back pass as Mumbai’s Opara took advantage to make it 1-1.
The second goalkeeping error in the 76th minute by Mumbai FC keeper, Sanjiban Ghosh spilled the ball to the feet of Holicharan Nazary who made the placement into the far post making it 3-2 for Pailan.
In the final match of the first round, Pune FC defeated ONGC 3-2 at Balewadi Stadium in Pune on Monday. It was substitute Shanmugham Venkatesh who scored the winner in the 71st minute for Derrick Pereira’s side.
The round two of the I-league will commence on October 11 as United Sikkim FC play host to East Bengal and Churchill Bros take on ONGC FC at home. Sporting Clube de Goa will ensure a mouth-watering treat as they take on
another Goan side Dempo SC on October 12.