Updated: February 26, 2021 7:38:02 am
The last week of the league stage of the Indian Super League has thrown up a couple of crucial matches that are in line to decide the fate of an Indian club’s participation in the Asian Champions League as well as two of the playoff spots remaining in the ISL – and three teams competing for them.
The two teams at the top of the table – ATK Mohun Bagan and Mumbai City are all set to face each other in the last league game of the season. Level on goal difference, but a three-point gap separating the two – Mumbai can beat ATK and take the top league spot on Sunday. The same day will see FC Goa go up against Hyderabad FC to decide the final two playoff spots – spots in which NorthEast United will have a say as well.
Asian Champions League up for grabs
Adam le Fondre, Bartholomew Ogbeche, Ahmad Jahouh … for all of their foreign firepower, it was an unknown Indian entity in Bipin Singh who landed the first hat-trick of this ISL season in a group game against Odisha FC. But when the context of the league position, Mumbai’s acquisition by the City Football Group and an AFC Champions League group stage spot in the reckoning, is applied to this particular situation, Singh’s hattrick takes more meaning.
Possessing the best squad in the league has also put pressure on Mumbai to qualify at the Asian level – a goal that has been derailed for the past few weeks – and derailed by themselves. Fringe players like Ogbeche and Singh have been the rescue act that was needed for Sergio Lobera’s team and now they still have a chance to take the spot which had been theirs for most of this season.
Mumbai’s fall has allowed Bagan the opportunity to go from I-League winners in 2020 to possible league stage winners in 2021 with ATK. The Kolkata club needs anything but a loss on Sunday. It would be a remarkable achievement for them considering the five-point gap to first place midway through the season.
A three-way tussle for two playoff spots has been in the making for weeks now and FC Goa have the chance to knock a young Hyderabad team out of contention on Sunday. As the table stands currently, both Goa and NorthEast United are on 30 points each. Hyderabad are two points behind but have the opportunity of knocking Goa out of the playoff spots with a win. A draw or loss wouldn’t be enough for them. NorthEast United FC are also in a similar position to Goa – needing a draw or a win to ensure their second-ever appearance in the playoffs.
The math makes it tough on Hyderabad. Their fighting 2-2 draw against ATK injected some hope in the playoff run. But an already excellent campaign, that has seen them play with a relatively young squad with an Indian core and still be competitive, is very likely to run out of steam right at the end. Only a win will do and the team in front of them play a brand of football that only makes it tougher for Hyderabad to pull out yet another surprise from their bag of tricks.
Bengaluru FC 1-2 FC Goa, Kerala Blasters 1-1 Chennaiyin FC, Hyderabad FC 2-2 ATK Mohun Bagan, East Bengal 1-2 NorthEast United FC, Odisha FC 1-6 Mumbai City FC
Team P W D L GD Pts
ATK M Bagan 19 12 4 3 15 40
Mumbai City 19 11 4 4 15 37
FC Goa 19 7 9 3 8 30
NEUFC 19 7 9 3 4 30
Hyderabad 19 6 10 3 8 28
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