THE I-LEAGUE TITLE RACE gets more interesting as Minerva Punjab FC host East Bengal FC on February 13 at their new Tau Devi Lal Sports Complex near Chandigarh.
Till last week, NEROCA FC were the closest to Minerva to compete for the title. But NEROCA’s draw against Aizawl FC had the Manipuri club lose out on the opportunity to add pressure on Minerva. Right now, East Bengal are Minerva Punjab’s mathematically, the biggest threat to the title.
What’s riding for Minerva Punjab FC?
After ten games, Minerva Punjab had taken a comfortable lead in points at the top but threw away some of the advantage when they lost Churchill Brothers right after the draw with East Bengal. Minerva are wary that a slip-up in this game will quash their aim of extending the lead and inching closer to their maiden I-League trophy. A win ensures they are safe in their lead and mainly the head-to-head factor will play no part in case the points are tied with East Bengal. This is because the first meeting between the two ended in a 2-2 draw.
Importance of this fixture for East Bengal FC
In I-League, if two teams are tied on points at the end of the league, the club with a better head-to-head record is awarded the title. Hence, a win is a must for both East Bengal and Minerva Punjab to have the advantage in that scenario. East Bengal FC won’t get another opportunity to reduce the margin between them and the league leaders. If it were to happen, it will be outside their control, being dependent on other results.
Something brewing or mind games?
Owner of Minerva Punjab FC, Ranjit Bajaj, has raised a flag and reported about match-fixing attempts made to his players. The All India Football Federation’s Integrity officer, Javed Siraj took cognisance of the issue reported.
East Bengal, on the contrary, apparently have written to the AIFF asking to look into the matter further. Further, EB authorities demanded strict action to be taken against Ranjit Bajaj, if the reporting turns to be bogus.
Considering the intense nature of the title race, it is tough to state if these are mind games by both team camps or genuine concerns.
The match will be played Tau Devi Lal Sports Complex in Panchkula near Chandigarh. The first “real” home game this season for Minerva Punjab FC was played here on February 7 against Shillong Lajong FC. Although the homecoming for Minerva was a reason to be elated but the home pitch itself was not very welcoming. It looked like a very under-prepared pitch as mud patches uprooted at many instances during the game. Loose mud or sand dust rose when players’ legs stomped the ground in some areas. There are definitely concerns about the injuries that might be sustained and the home coach, Wangkhem Khogen Singh himself expressed the same doubt in his pre-match statements.
The clash between Minerva Punjab FC and East Bengal FC kicks off at 2 pm tomorrow.