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I-league title race set for riveting finish

Thursday, March 08, 2018

New Delhi: The I-League title race is down to the most dramatic final day in the competition's history with as many as four contenders, across three matches, seeking a coronation to remember.

The title looked wrapped up a few days ago but leaders Minerva Punjab's shocking defeat to Chennai City once again left the race for the silverware tantalisingly poised.

On the eve of the last round matches, Minerva Punjab FC led the chasing pack with 33 points, even as East Bengal slipped to fourth (30 points) behind Neroca FC (31) and Mohun Bagan (30).

All these four teams are in with a chance and play their respective matches simultaneously.

East Bengal will count on home advantage against Neroca FC in their last-gasp bid to win the elusive trophy. On their part, Neroca, yet another surprise package form the Northeast after Aizawl FC, defied expectations to come this far.

Minerva Punjab host Churchill Brothers in Panchkula and Mohun Bagan face Gokulam Kerala in Kozhikode. Permutations and combinations are certain to come into the picture.

East Bengal can lift their maiden I-League title if they manage to beat Neroca FC and hope that both Minerva Punjab and Mohun Bagan lose their respective games.

But it's advantage Minerva Punjab who need only a win to seal the deal, failing which they will have to depend on favourable results from the other two matches.

Second-placed Neroca FC can lift the trophy on their debut season in case they manage to earn a win against East Bengal and pray that Minerva Punjab do not pick up three points against Churchill Brothers.

Mohun Bagan shot back into contention thanks to Minerva Punjab's slip-ups lately. A win on the final day against Gokulam Kerala away could see them being crowned champions, if other results go their way.

If three teams finish on 33 points, then Mohun Bagan will lift their second I-league trophy as cumulative points collected from four fixtures will be taken into account.

Mohun Bagan have seven points with a double over East Bengal and a draw against Minerva.

Minerva have picked up five points (win and draw against Bagan and another draw against East Bengal) whereas East Bengal have managed to gather only four points (win and a draw against Minerva).

East Bengal will rely on their Nigerian ace Dudu Omagbemi, who scored a brace to rescue a point against Lajong FC, while Minerva will look up to Bhutanese ace Chencho Gyeltshen to show them the way. With relegation looming large, Churchill Brothers will surely go all out and that should make Minerva's task much harder.

However, even if Minerva lose and finish with 32 points they can still be champions, provided all the other results go in their favour.

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