Dempo take on United Sikkim today

Defending champions Dempo Sports Club will be forced to field a depleted squad in Saturday’s I-League clash against United Sikkim Football Club at Duler Stadium, Mapusa.

Dempo have been far from their best season and most of their problems seem to occur due to the absence of their best players.
On Saturday, Dempo will have to do without dependable defender Mahesh Gawli, midfielder Peter Carvalho and Japanese striker Ryuji Sueoka. Besides that, Clifford Miranda, Anthony Pereira and Koko Sakibo are all nursing injuries but will be forced to take the field.
“Injuries are a big concern. I never talk about the player we miss out but three bigwigs will be out and some players will be forced to continue despite not being fully fit,” said Dempo coach Armando Colaco.
Dempo are placed third in the I-League table after the latest calculations with 30 points from 15 matches. They are behind Churchill Brothers (34 points from 14 matches) and East Bengal (33 points from 16 matches), but the defending champions are aware that a couple of good results will take them on top of the league ladder.
“Title chances cannot be talked about now but we are among the top teams. We are not far off. I must admit, though, we have not been at our best. The free-flowing football that everyone associates with us is missing. We have to find our touch,” maintained Colaco, who is expected to start with Godwin Franco and Climax Lawrence in central midfield while Joaquim Abranches and Sakibo will be the strike-pair.
United Sikkim are in the relegation zone — along with Mohun Bagan — with 10 points from 15 matches but Nathan Hall, the youngest coach in the league, feels neither he nor his team is under pressure.
In the previous match against Churchill Brothers, United Sikkim put up a decent performance and were unlucky not to collect anything for their efforts. Debutant striker John Matkin scored a good goal and it will be interesting to see how the Mexican-American striker performs against Dempo, a team where he gave trial before moving to Sikkim. The kick-off is at 3:45pm.
Prayag United favourites against Mumbai FC
PUNE: A rejuvenated Prayag United SC could prove to be a hard nut to crack for Mumbai FC, whose run of win ended almost a month ago when they beat East Bengal at home on December 23.
Two drawn matches and a loss to East Bengal in a reverse fixture has put Khalid Jamil’s side on the edge, though no one is pressing the panic button as yet.
Having got that one point back from the Mohun Bagan match that was drawn here at home, Mumbai FC is at No 6 position with 21 points in the I-League standings. Prayag, who was languishing below Mumbai has surged ahead of them and are well placed at No 5 with 26 points following a hat-trick of wins since the dawn of the New Year.
Jamil, however, is reticent and hopes that his team will be able to deliver this time also, as they did during their away tie against Prayag United on December 2. Mumbai had won 3-2 and that was the start of bad phase for Prayag, who lost a series of matches before New Year brought respite to them.
As Mumbai FC and Prayag United come face-to-face yet again, there is a sense of déjà vu among the Mumbai team.
The trio of Yusif Yakubu, ND Opara and Gabriel Fernandes should line-up on Saturday after Mumbai had struggled to get out of their own half for most of the first period. Finally, when they grew into confidence as the game wore on which saw Opara create a real chance for Yakubu, but the front-man produced a weak effort that did not trouble the keeper.
Nicholas Rodrigues then created a chance with a dangerous free-kick that flashed across the box and into the keeper’s grasp, but the Mumbai strikers failed to direct it into the post. This is something that Jamil would expect his players to correct when they take the field against Prayag.
At home, without doubt it will be captain Haroon Fakruddin Amiri, who will be the key player. He gets a lot of fans, who keep egging him on throughout the match.
For Prayag, I-League top scorer Ranti Martins will carry the hopes. Already he has scored 17 goals and given the way he played in the last match against Sporting Clube de Goa, Martins will be the differentiator in the Saturday evening tie that is set to be telecast live.
Prayag United coach Eelco Schattorie had been patient while his team went through the losing spree and now that his boys have found the rhythm, he is expecting an encore from Martins and Bello Rasaq who were among the goals against Sporting in Goa. The kick-off is at 7 pm.
East Bengal bank on history, Churchill Bros form
KOLKATA: Kingfisher East Bengal will be looking back at their favourable record against Churchill Brothers in the season when they take on the latter in the 17th round of I-League at the Salt Lake Stadium on Saturday.
East Bengal had routed Churchill Brothers 3-0 when the two met in the sixth round in the first leg. Things have shaped up differently ever since for Churchill Brothers, who have remained unbeaten in the last eight rounds, where they have won seven and just drew once.
The former champions from Goa are deservedly at the top of the standings with 34 points from 14 matches. The initiative will be on the Goan side to continue their unbeaten run while East Bengal will seek to regain the title hunt.
Churchill Brothers technical director Subhash Bhowmick is more interested in taking one match at a time.
“Positions don’t matter. I am taking it match by match. We are yet to play quite a few matches and there are always ups and downs in these long leagues. So, I must say, still a long way to go. I would rather concentrate on tomorrow’s match,” he said.
When asked about the loss in the first leg match against East Bengal, Bhowmick was quick to dismiss any chance of repetition of such result.
“Firstly, we haven’t lost a single match since then. So, the situation is completely different. Secondly, a 3-0 loss doesn’t happen every day,” he said.
He then added: “East Bengal are a good side. No doubt about that. But how the teams play in the middle in those 90 minutes is all that matters. One thing I can promise is that we will get to see a good match tomorrow.”
Beto’s form has been a huge boost for the team from Goa. “Beto’s form is definitely the key to our success. Not only Beto, but all the foreigners have done exceedingly well this season. Their performances have certainly been a confidence booster,” he said. Kick off at 2pm. [NT]