I-League debutants Bangalore FC have one hand on the I-League trophy after their closest rivals East Bengal suffered a shock loss to the relegation-threatened defending champions Churchill Brothers 1-0 in Margao.
East Bengal are the only challengers to Bangalore and needed to win in Goa to keep the pressure on the league leaders. However, Raju Yumnam scored the only goal of the match in the 23rd minute to deal a severe blow to the Kolkata giants’ title ambitions. Significantly, the three points also helped Churchill move out of the relegation spot and they are now placed 13th in the 14-team league with 22 points.
East Bengal, coached by Armando Colaco, who has won the national title four times with Dempo, are hoping to become the first side from Kolkata to win the I-League. East Bengal (37 points in 22 matches) are now four points behind Bangalore (41 pts) with only two more games remaining in the season.
Bangalore, in fact, will be crowned champions on Friday without even stepping on the field if East Bengal fail to beat Pune FC. If the green-and-gold brigade manages to claim three points, then Bangalore can clinch the title by beating a stuttering Dempo on Sunday.
Asian Cup boost
In a move that can benefit Indian football, the Asian Football Council on Wednesday expanded the continents showpiece event, the Asian Cup, to 24 teams from the existing 16.
The Challenge Cup, a tournament that gave ‘Tier 2’ nations a backdoor entry into the Asian Cup, will be scrapped after this year’s edition in Maldives. The qualification format for the World Cup too has been changed, which will give India an opportunity to compete against better quality opposition more frequently.
India has not managed to qualify for the Asian Cup on merit for close to 30 years. They made the cut for the Doha 2011 after winning the Challenge Cup at home. With eight additional spots added for the 2019 edition, the team’s chances to qualify will automatically increase. The qualification criteria for AFC Champions League, too, has been eased but Indian clubs will first have to fulfill the licensing criteria and the national team should be placed among the top 24 nations.