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NFL Round I: Big guns given a run for their money
January 09, 2007 18:14 IST
The 11th edition of the National Football League promises to be one of the most open and keenly-contested in recent times, if the results of the first round of matches are any indication.
Teams that were considered underdogs going into the tournament, held their own against more fancied teams and came away with favourable results.
The big two of Kolkata -- East Bengal and Mohun Bagan -- got off to slow starts while Mohammedan Sporting, who finished a lowly eighth last season, started with a victory.
Churchill Brothers, promoted to the NFL's top division this season, put it across Sporting Clube de Goa, the Goa League champions, who have made it a habit of fighting for the major titles up for grabs.
In the marquee match-up, defending champions Mahindra United had to come from behind to beat Durand Cup winners Dempo Sports Club, the NFL champions two years ago.
But the disappointment would surely be three-time champions Mohun Bagan and East Bengal failing to get off to winning starts in matches they were expected to dominate.
While Bagan were held to a goalless draw by Bangalore by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, who were drafted into the league in place of Tata Football Academy, East Bengal fared even worse, losing 0-1 to Air India in Mumbai.
Substitutes Uttam Singh and Samson Singh were the heroes for the home side with the latter scoring the winning goal.
However, Mohammedan Sporting restored some pride for Kolkata clubs by getting the better of former champions JCT in league's inaugural match in Delhi.
Subhash Bhowmik's side recovered from a terrible first period and a 0-1 disadvantage to claim full points with an 89th minute winner.
Renedy Singh's sublime goal from a free-kick was cancelled by strikes from K Kulothungan and Habibur Rahman Mondal.
Mohammedan's victory was significant as it came without any foreign players against a team that fielded two overseas recruits.
Mahindra rode on goals struck by their Ghanain imports, Andrews Mensah and Yusif Yakubu, and the early strike by Dempo's impressive winger, Jerry Zirsanga hardly mattered.
Churchill, who have hired a Moroccan coach to fashion their resurgence, had Nigerian Odafa Okonji to thank for the 2-0 victory over their Goan opponents, Sporting Clube.
Four of the nine goals in the first round came from foreigners, which is a continuation of a worrying trend in Indian football with clubs increasingly reliant on overseas recruits to find the net.
In any case, the so-called bigger teams have been served notice that they will not have it all their way in the search of the Holy Grail in Indian football.