It can happen only in Indian football. Venue problems and postponements have ensured that at the end of the official cut off of 20 rounds, only four teams (East Bengal, Prayag United, Shillong Lajong and United Sikkim) have completed the same. Churchill Brothers and Pune FC have played only 18 games, Air India 17 and under controversially circumstances, Mohun Bagan had 12 of their games wiped off and have played five games with 10 more to go. The official AIFF website had wiped their slate clean but now it reads as 15-4-6-5-15-18-6.
The number of points are what they have accumulated after being re-inducted into the tournament but the number of games results and goals scored and conceded include matches before their suspension and consequent re-instatement.
In any case, the table at this staggered stage presents interesting possibilities. The most important question it throws up is whether Bagan will beat the drop. With a mere six points, they will have to take home the maximums on at least five occasions if they are to go above United Sikkim (12) and Air India (18), while hoping that these teams do not improve their tally.
“I am happy with the performance and that’s what gives me the hope. We could have won the game. I am confident of saving the relegation easily. We won a point against a top team,” Bagan coach Karim Bencherifa was quoted as saying after their expected draw against East Bengal. Bencherifa also said that he was happy that his team was on an upward curve and was pleased with the way they approached the match. “When we came back, we played a poor match against Salgaocar which we lost. But from then on, we have only improved,” the Moroccan added. Will it be so easy? Or will the AIFF bail them out another time by deciding to tamper with the format and not relegate any team and better still increase the number to 16 or 18? Proposals to have 18 are already there.
Churchill, as often in the past, have the best chance to bag the title again. They have two games less than toppers East Bengal and are just one point adrift at 39. Dempo have 35 from 19 games. Pune have 33 from 18. The champion must emerge from this quartet with the rest only making up the ladder.
Prayag United striker Nigerian Ranty Martins Soleye still tops the scoring charts with 21 goals. He topped the scoring charts in 2006 (NFL), 2010-11 and 2011-12 (I- League) as well. He is just one goal short of the magic number of 100 in the tournament. Only Bagan’s Odafa Onyeka Okolie has scored more than him with 119 goals.
Ranty and Odafa have won the golden boot between them in the last six seasons. An incredible feat, indeed, at any level. Not surprisingly, the top five goalscorers are all foreign signings.