The final round of the I-League 2022-23 begins on Saturday, and with eight of the twelve positions (apart from the top two and bottom two) still unconfirmed, all teams are aiming to finish as high as possible on the table to secure a better seeding in the upcoming Super Cup Qualifiers, scheduled to be held in Kerala next month.
On Saturday, March 11, four games will take place. NEROCA FC will face Churchill Brothers at the Khuman Lampak Stadium in Imphal, and Mohammedan Sporting will play against Sudeva Delhi FC at the Kishore Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata, with both clashes scheduled for 2pm IST. Later, Rajasthan United FC will take on Real Kashmir FC at the Ambedkar Stadium in New Delhi, and Aizawl FC will face Mumbai Kenkre FC at the Cooperage Stadium in Mumbai at 4:30pm IST.
Aizawl FC, NEROCA, and Rajasthan United are currently tied on 25 points, occupying the seventh, eighth, and ninth positions, respectively, separated only on goal difference (head-to-head will only be taken into account after the result between NEROCA and Churchill Brothers). A win for Aizawl FC against Kenkre FC would secure them seventh position, but any misstep could allow NEROCA or Rajasthan United, both playing at home, to claim the spot.
Mohammedan Sporting, currently in tenth place and trailing Rajasthan United by just two points, could also enter the fray and potentially finish as high as seventh if Aizawl FC, NEROCA, and Rajasthan United all lose their respective games. Teams finishing ninth and tenth will need to take part in an extra play-off for the Super Cup Qualifiers, so a top-eight finish is what these four teams will be battling out for in their last matches.
While Sudeva Delhi FC and Mumbai Kenkre FC’s relegation has already been confirmed, Real Kashmir FC and Churchill Brothers are also separated by a single point in fifth and sixth respectively. However, neither of the two clubs can finish above fifth nor can be overtaken by any team below them. They are set to play the Super Cup Qualifier on April 6.
Although a contest against relegated Mumbai Kenkre FC may seem like a walk in the park, Aizawl FC will need to perform much better than in their previous games. The People’s Club are currently on a run of six winless games, and their fans will hope to finish the season on a positive note.
Addressing the media at the pre-match press conference, Aizawl FC head coach Caetano Pinho said, “There’s no easy team in the I-League. Looking at the two squads, I feel both teams are balanced, but it will be their home game. I hope our players take their chances tomorrow.”
Pinho’s counterpart and Mumbai Kenkre FC’s head coach Akhil Kothari wants to win the game for the fans, and said, “It’s our last game, and we will try to finish on a high note and give our fans, who have been with us all the while, something to cheer about.”
In Imphal, NEROCA’s challenge will come from sixth-placed Churchill Brothers, who are winless in their previous two away games. Their assistant coach Gyan Moyon said, “We won our last game against Mohammedan Sporting, but we take every game seriously, and we are looking forward to winning the last match of the season for all our fans and our family.”
It will be Churchill Brothers’ third consecutive game away from home, and assistant coach Mateus Costa believes the travels have taken a toll on his team. However, the Indian looked in a positive mood on the eve of the game. “Our last game in Mizoram was also a tough one, but we have to finish the season strong, and hopefully, we will get the three points tomorrow,” said Costa.
Rajasthan United head coach Pushpender Kundu harked all the way back to his side’s opening-round victory over Churchill Brothers in November, hoping to end the season just the way it began. “We started the season with a win in Goa, and that’s exactly how we want to finish the season off tomorrow – by beating Real Kashmir,” Kundu said.
However, Real Kashmir’s technical director, Gifton Noel-Williams, is determined to extend his team’s unbeaten run to eight games. The Englishman believes the Snow Leopards’ season has been a valuable learning experience for the young players. He said, “I am sure they learned a lot of things from this season, and with my time with them.”
Over in Kolkata, Mohammedan Sporting head coach Mehrajuddin Wadoo wants to appease the fans with a win over his former team Sudeva Delhi. The Indian said, “It’s true there’s not much in the game for both the teams; however, I am expecting a tough game. It’s the last game of the season at our home ground, so we want to win it for the fans.”
While a dismal season comes to an end for Sudeva Delhi, their head coach, Sankarlal Chakraborty remained positive about the club’s philosophy of giving young players opportunities. He said, “Winning and losing is part of the game. Our aim at the club was to give chances to young players and create talent for the national team, and in that aspect, the team has worked well this season.”
All four games will be telecast live on Eurosport and Doordarshan Sports and streamed live on the Discovery Plus OTT platform.