The race for the I-League title could be all but over tomorrow when hosts Churchill Brothers take on Chennai City FC in the potential title-decider at the Tilak Maidan in Goa.
A win for the Coimbatore-based club is enough to win their maiden national league title in just four years of existence and besides Singaporean coach Akbar Nawas and a host of quality Spanish players, they would have to thank striker Pedro Manzi the most, one would want to believe.
The Spanish sniper has been in phenomenal goalscoring form in the league campaign overcoming a minor injury scare in between to score 19 times including four hattricks.
In fact, it will be billed as a game between the two most prolific strikers of the league, Manzi’s Trinidadian counterpart in the Churchill Brothers ranks, Willis Plaza, having netted 18 times for the ‘Red Machines’ this season. The two will be in a dogfight to finish with the maximum goals under their belt with just a game more to play.
Churchill Brothers are placed fourth at the moment, with 31 points and a win on Friday could catapult them to the third position.
On the other hand, the visiting team, Chennai City FC, who have recently tied up with FC Basel 1893, are top of the table with 40 points from 18 games so far, with East Bengal four points behind in the second spot.
Churchill Brothers’ Romanian coach Petra Gigiu said on match day eve, “I will be very happy if we finish on the podium. There are quite a few players like Rowilson Rodrigues, keeper Vigneshwaran Baskaran, Nallappan Mohanraj, Richard Costa who will not be playing tomorrow’s match. Hussain Eldor might join tomorrow’s match. We are happy with our performance this season, compared to the last season.”
Akbar Nawas seemed to more raring to go expressing in the pre-match media conference, “The most important thing for me and the team is to win tomorrow’s match. We want to win every match and become the champion. We want to finish the league on a good note.”
“The secret of our success is training. Churchill Brothers is one of those teams which is hard to play. Some of the teams are overly physical but Churchill Brothers is a good team with a good coach and mix of players. I think we have good Spanish and Indian players who get along well.”
The simplest equation for Chennai City FC is to pick up one win from their remaining two matches. That will take them up to 43 points, more than anything East Bengal can possibly reach.
Chennai City FC, who have been unbeaten at home all season, can wrap up the title with a victory either against Churchill Brothers or Minerva Punjab FC in Coimbatore in the last game.
The Goans will take heart from the fact that arguably the best team of the season have not beaten them so far, their first leg encounter ending in a 2-2 stalemate, where Churchill Brothers were done by an own-goal.
On paper, at this stage, Chennai City FC go in as clear favourites but funnier things have happened in football, especially when the title is in sight.