The stunning success achieved by Bengaluru FC in its debut year in Indian football’s elite club tournament — the I-League — is by itself a significant development for a sport trying to embrace a professional set-up. The JSW Group-owned club has 41 points from 22 outings and is leading the current league standings by four clear points.
If it is able to realise a greater percentage of the consistency it has shown in the season so far, Bengaluru may well become the new champion in the very season of its inception. It will also be the first time the premier club title will head south in the tournament’s long history.
The Bangalore-based team has so far bettered the traditional giants from Bengal and Goa and justified the All India Football Federation’s decision to award an “automatic” place to it in a surprise move ahead of the start of the season. Bengaluru has managed to garner the most wins among the 13 teams in the fray.
National team captain Sunil Chhetri is leading the individual scoring charts (13 goals), while Australian Sean Rooney has given him good assistance upfront making the Bengaluru attack the most effective in the league.
Bengaluru overturned Mohun Bagan in a 24th round match to dispel its apparent weakness away from home, where it has lost most matches (four out of five losses). The win against Bagan may prove to be a big morale-booster for the side, which travels to Goa to play Dempo SC and Sporting Clube de Goa in the final two rounds.
East Bengal, which is seeking redemption under Armando Colaco, remains the closest contender to Bengaluru’s title aspirations. The Kolkata giant (34 points from 20 matches) needs to win all its four matches and hope that Bengaluru slips up in one of its two remaining ties in Goa.
East Bengal’s path is also strewn with thorns as it plays Pune FC twice (home and away) and meets Churchill Brothers away before taking on United Sports Club in the final fixture at home.
Salgaocar FC (37 from 22) is the only Goan club which is in the vicinity of the title and can realise the crown only if it wins its remaining matches and Bengaluru falters in both of its.
The relegation zone also sees an intense battle with Mohammedan Sporting at the bottom with 18 points from 21 matches. Also looking down the precipice is defending champion Churchill Brothers, which has managed just 19 points from its 20 outings to be in 12th position.
United SC (22 from 21), Mohun Bagan (24 from 22), Rangdajied United (24 from 22) and Mumbai FC (25 from 22) are all in the drop zone.