As the I-League enters the home straight, Goal.com has a look at the situation at the top and bottom of the table...As the season reaches it's conclusion, Goal.com presents a weekly feature which would guide you through the I-League title race as well as the relegation scramble till the end of the season.
So, let us start off with a glance at the complete table, as of 16th April 2012.
|1||Dempo Sports Club||53||24||17||2||5||56||21|
|4||Churchill Brothers SC||44||24||13||5||6||44||26|
|8||Sporting Clube de Goa||37||24||10||7||7||46||40|
|10||Shillong Lajong FC||27||25||7||6||12||24||44|
|12||Chirag United Club Kerala||17||23||5||2||16||23||44|
Now, getting into the technicalities first, teams level on points are separated by their head-to- head records and not the goal difference. Therefore, suppose Mohun Bagan and Dempo end up level on points, it will be the Goans who will be placed higher because of a better head-to-head record, that includes a 5-0 thrashing in Goa and a 2-2 draw away at Kolkata.
So, let us now delve a bit deeper into the different 'segments' of the league table...
The Champions Elect
|1||Dempo Sports Club||53||24||17||2||5||56|
It will take a blistering run by East Bengal to prevent Dempo from being crowned the I-League champions in 2011-12. As luck goes, Dempo will face East Bengal next in what may as well end the latter's slim chance of an unlikely I-League truimph. For all intents and purposes however, Dempo have done everything except lifting the I-League trophy. Even if they lose against East Bengal on Friday, a point against Prayag United will be enough to guarantee them the championship no matter what the Red and Gold may do.
Scramble For Being Runners Up
|4||Churchill Brothers SC
Among all the teams chasing Dempo, only East Bengal have a mathematical chance of actually catching up with the runaway league leaders and infact they need to script a miraculous run to actually take the I-League to Kolkata for the first time. With 44 points from 23 matches, a total of 9 points from their last three matches of the campaign will see them tied on points with Dempo provided the Goan side lose their next two fixtures. Their next match against Dempo thus is a must win for them, as a point there will see Dempo winning the title. The rest of the two ties against SC Goa at home and Air India away are certainly winnable and with some luck, hoping Dempo lose against Prayag, East Bengal can actually make this miracle a reality.
Mohun Bagan looked like serious title contenders for the large part of the season, but consecutive draws against Dempo and bottom placed HAL has seen their ambitions fade away. Their hopes of finishing runners up too have taken a beating as they drew against Salgaocar SC. The most they can hope for now is a top 5 finish.
Meanwhile Churchill's hopes of a late surge for the title was extinguished as Dempo beat them 4-2 in the Goan derby. Even though they bounced back by easing out Pune FC from the title race, Subhas Bhowmick's team can at best finish runners up.
Pune FC's hot streak has been ended by a home defeat to Churchill after they had won five games on the trot. While they currently lie fifth with two games to play they can finish anywhere from 2nd to 7th.
Salgaocar's late renaissance could also see them finishing in second or third place this season, but this will also be subject to them doing well after their AFC Cup troubles.
Too many draws have cost Prayag United a top half finish. Although they came out with great results against many of the teams above them, a league maximum of 9 draws sees them not among the Top 5 contenders. However they still have a role to play since if they manage to defeat Dempo in the last round, they will have helped in bringing the I-league to Kolkata, provided the Red and Gold keep their side of the bargain.
The Safe Haven:
|8||Sporting Clube de Goa
|10||Shillong Lajong FC
Sporting Clube de Goa too have been guilty of being inconsistent throughout the whole I-League season. Their late run of good form has however covered up their disastrous start to the season. But difficult ties remaining means they are hardly expected to move up from their present state.
Funnily enough, both Air India and Shillong Lajong have nowhere to go. Neither do they stand a chance to finish within the top 8, with Sporting 5 points ahead of Air India also have a game in hand, nor can they go down , with Chirag United 10 points behind Shillong Lajong. They would be definitely looking forward to an improved display next season.
The Relegation Scramble:
|12||Chirag United Club Kerala
So, it comes down to Mumbai FC and Chirag United Kerala as to who will join HAL in the I-League Division 2 next season. Now this presents a fascinating end to the I-League now that the winners are almost as good as decided.
Mumbai FC are 7 points clear of Chirag with one game left to play with their opponents being Chirag.
The Keralites however have two games in hand, They can easily get 3 points against whipping boys Pailan Arrows, who haven't won yet this season. And their last match is against Mumbai FC which may be a decider between the two to decide who avoids the drop. However for that last match to be of any signifance, Chirag have to somehow find the will and the performance to defeat the reigning I-League champions Salgaocar SC in their penultimate match.
With Biswajit Bhattacharya's men having all to play for, and Salgaocar concentrating on the AFC Cup more, now that their title hopes have vanished, the side from Kerala can certainly do the unthinkable and set up a cracker of a last match against Mumbai FC.
For the record Chirag also have a better head-to-head record, having beaten Mumbai FC 2-0 in January.
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