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Mahindra United, Air India show class
January 19, 2007 18:05 IST
After three rounds, the National Football League seems a two-horse race between Mumbai teams, with a couple of other top contenders hardly doing anything to make an impression.
Mahindra United and Air India are sitting pretty at the top with seven points each, while Mohun Bagan and Sporting Clube de Goa are yet to get going in the race.
The gulf between the top and bottom rungs of the league was aptly demonstrated when Mahindra United routed Bagan 4-1 in Mumbai despite falling behind early to a Baichung Bhutia strike.
But the defending champions showed their class, scoring later through a brace from Ghanain Yusif Yakubu, his compatriot Pomeyieh Mensah and Abhishek Yadav, for a resounding victory.
While the encounter gave notice that Mahindra would not let go their crown without a fight, it meant that things are going from bad to worse for the three-time champions from Kolkata.
The Federation Cup champions, with an enviable strike pairing of Bhutia and Brazilian Jose Ramirez Barreto, are experiencing a collective loss of form, thus adding to coach Robson Mattos' headaches despite him getting a vote of confidence from the team management.
Air India continued their good work, beating Hindustan Aeronautics Limited 3-1, the Bangalore side expectedly lying near the bottom of the table. Bashiru Abbas, Noel Fernandes and Narendra Meetei found the target for the airmen.
Another underachiever was Goan outfit Sporting Clube de Goa, who endured the agony of watching a two-goal lead over local rivals Dempo Sports Club turn into a 2-3 defeat.
The ejection of Nigerian Bello Rasaq and a refereeing error had a major bearing on the match. The latter was when a free-kick was awarded to the Durand Cup champions inside the opposition penalty area and Brazilian Robert Silva scored what turned out to be the match-winner.
Joseph Pereira and Nigerian Dudu Omagbeni had given Sporting a handy lead but the second yellow card to Rasaq changed the complexion of the match.
The result must be a heart-breaker for Sporting coach Clifford Chukuwama, who can be forgiven for thinking that his team deserved more than the one point they have after three matches.
The victory kept the momentum going for Dempo after a 5-0 victory over Mohammedan Sporting.
East Bengal got past their local rivals Mohammedan Sporting by the odd goal in three. Asim Biswas got the three-time champions ahead but Mohammedan Sporting restored parity through Habibur Rahman Mondal. East Bengal then dictated terms thereafter before Bonafice Ambani volleyed home the winner to seal three points.
It was East Bengal's second successive success, following a 3-1 win over HAL, and showed that they had recovered from their opening round defeat to Air India.
After the inaugural day victory over JCT, Mohammedan Sporting were routed 5-0 by Dempo and losing again was another setback.
JCT FC played out a goalless draw with Churchill Brothers, the result dropping the Goan side from the joint-lead.