ISL 7: ATK Mohun Bagan and Mumbai City load barrels in two-horse race for League Winners Shield - The Daily Guardian
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ISL 7: ATK Mohun Bagan and Mumbai City load barrels in two-horse race for League Winners Shield

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Panaji (Goa) [India], February 15 (ANI): It is not often that a league’s conclusion is perfectly set up with a match that is a virtual final, a straight shootout to determine who goes home with the coveted ISL League Winners Shield.
Yet, as the league phase of the ongoing seventh season of Indian Super League (ISL) enters its home stretch, it is becoming more and more apparent that the number one spot, and a berth in the 2022 AFC Champions League Group phase, will be decided on the final day, in the final match.
On February 28, the league phase of the ISL will conclude with a match between ATK Mohun Bagan and Mumbai City FC. Both teams, since November, have been heads and shoulders above the rest in terms of quality and consistency.
While the rest of the league vies for third and fourth spot, Mumbai and Bagan have been fighting a private battle for the top spot all season.
It was Mumbai who held the upper hand for long. On Sunday, Bagan (36 points) took over that top spot from the Islanders (34 points) with a win over Jamshedpur. On Monday, Mumbai can retake it with a win over Bengaluru.
What makes this battle all the more interesting is the contrast that is evident between the two sides. ATK Mohun Bagan and Mumbai City FC are antitheses of each other, both on and off the field.
One draws inspiration from one of the most passionate fanbases in the country and boasts of a history that stretches back more than a century. The other is a window into global football, a part of what is perhaps the most influential football conglomerate in the world. A clash of tradition and modernity.
Both are led by two Spaniards who find themselves at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to footballing philosophies. On one hand, there is Antonio Lopez Habas, ever the realist.
For Habas, winning is everything and a team derives its strength from the backbone that is its defence. A 1-0 win is a plan executed to perfection. No team has conceded less (10 goals) than his ATKMB side nor has any team kept more clean sheets (10).
Habas doesn’t believe in making more passes than is necessary, nor in keeping possession for possession’s sake. His team is second from bottom in the passing stats (5499 passes). He comes from the same tradition that gave the world Jose Mourinho and Diego Simeone.
Habas would no doubt nod in approval to what Mourinho once said about keeping the ball — ‘possession is for philosophers’.
In the other corner, there is the philosopher that Mourinho was talking about. For Sergio Lobera, the madness is more important than the method. His team has to play a certain way, as he thinks football should be played.
As somebody, who spent his formative years as a coach at FC Barcelona when Johan Cruyff’s philosophy was enveloping the club, it is no surprise that Lobera insists on his teams being aesthetically pleasing. His success, particularly this season, has been in moulding his team in his image in a relatively brief period of time.
Like a typical Lobera team, Mumbai has out-passed (7577 passes) and out-possessed their opponents this season. Only Goa has made more passes and scored more goals than them so far.
That is not to say that Lobera neglects his defence — Mumbai is right behind Bagan in second in terms of least goals conceded (11 goals). But his defensive strategy is based on not giving the opponent the space to create pressure, rather than absorb whatever pressure they manage to create.
Between now and February 28, a lot can happen. Mumbai is not exactly in the best of form and their last six games have featured three draws and a defeat.
If they can get three points against Bengaluru on Monday, then the fact that their remaining assignments come against Jamshedpur and Odisha FC puts them in prime position.
Bagan, meanwhile, has the small matter of a Kolkata derby on Friday, one into which their rivals SC East Bengal will come in buoyant after recent successes. They then face Hyderabad FC whose chances of making it to the playoffs will likely hinge on the outcome of the match.
As tough as the tasks are, it is hard to look past Habas’ serial winners going into that final match against Mumbai, only a win away from winning the league. Chances are it will be a clash to remember. (ANI)

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ISL 7: Mumbai City face FC Goa; ATK Mohun Bagan take on NorthEast United in semis

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Panaji (Goa) [India], February 28 (ANI): Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL) on Sunday announced the semi-final fixtures for Indian Super League (ISL) 2020-21.
Mumbai City FC, ATK Mohun Bagan, NorthEast United FC, and FC Goa will battle it out to reach the League final scheduled on Saturday, March 13.
ISL Shield Winners Mumbai City FC will play their two-legged semi-finals against fourth-placed FC Goa.
ATK Mohun Bagan, who finished second in the league stage, will lock horns with third-placed NorthEast United FC.
Mumbai City FC was declared as the League Shield Winners on Sunday after the side registered a 2-0 win over ATK Mohun Bagan.
FC Goa also qualified for the semi-finals of the ISL after playing out a goalless draw against Hyderabad FC on Sunday.
ISL 2020-21 Playoff fixtures:
Friday, March 5 – FC Goa vs Mumbai City FC – PJN Stadium, Fatorda
Saturday, March 6 – NorthEast United FC vs ATK Mohun Bagan – GMC Stadium, Bambolim
Monday, March 8 – Mumbai City FC vs FC Goa – GMC Stadium, Bambolim
Tuesday, March 9 – ATK Mohun Bagan vs NorthEast United FC – PJN Stadium, Fatorda
Saturday, March 13 – TBD – PJN Stadium, Fatorda. (ANI)

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ISL 7: Mumbai City triumph over Bagan to win League Winners Shield, book AFC Champions League spot

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Panaji (Goa) [India], February 28 (ANI): They occupied the top spot in the Indian Super League (ISL) for the majority of the season. An unexpectedly bad run of form saw them lose that spot to their only rivals towards the end. But going into the final league game of the season, Mumbai City FC was not too far away. A victory over ATK Mohun Bagan was all that they needed to secure their first League Winners Shield and a place in the AFC Champions League.
And Sergio Lobera’s men made the most of their chances as they dished out a complete performance to beat Bagan 2-0 at the GMC Stadium Bambolim, here on Sunday.

The final league game of the season was expected to be close, with two of the most consistent teams in the league going head to head. But Lobera’s side won comfortably in the end after first-half goals from Mourtada Fall (7′) and Bartholomew Ogbeche (39′).
Despite losing the top spot to Mumbai, ATK Mohun Bagan will still harbor hopes of salvaging their season with a second successive ISL title.
Being the team with the most goals from set-pieces this season, Mumbai drew first blood in a similar fashion, scoring with their first shot on target. Ahmed Jahouh’s free-kick fell to an unmarked Fall, who buried his header from an acute angle across the face of goal to put Mumbai ahead.
The Mariners took control of the game soon after conceding but were forced to make a substitution in the 19th minute with Prabir Das replacing the injured Sandesh Jinghan.
Chances were far and few in between after the opening goal but it was from another set-piece that Mumbai doubled their advantage. Hernan Santana’s free-kick rattled the underside of the crossbar and Ogbeche pounced on the rebound, heading into an empty net.
Mumbai started the second-half bright, piling pressure on the Bagan defence. The Mariners, on the other hand, hardly tested Mumbai keeper Amrinder Singh despite dominating possession after the break.
The crossbar proved unlucky for Bagan again, denying Prabir a goal around the hour mark. The substitute lined up a shot from a distance that beat Mumbai keeper Amrinder but the ball fizzled out after striking the frame.
Antonio Lopez Habas’ side went all out in the closing stages of the game, hoping to script a comeback but Mumbai’s backline stood firm, defending in numbers. (ANI)

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Indian men’s hockey team return to international competition with roaring win against Germany

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Krefeld [Germany], February 28 (ANI): Playing their first international match in over 12 months, the Indian men’s hockey team led by PR Sreejesh put up a scintillating show as they outclassed hosts Germany 6-1 in the first of their four-match Europe tour on Sunday.
India’s goal scorers were Nilakanta Sharma (13′), Vivek Sagar Prasad (27′, 28′), Lalit Kumar Upadhyay (41′), Akashdeep Singh (42′), and Harmanpreet Singh (47′), who outplayed the hosts and led their team to a winning start on their first assignment of 2021.
Hungry to perform, the Indian men’s hockey team played with an intent to win. They went on an attacking mode right from the start, putting pressure on the German line-up. After creating potential opportunities in the striking circle, India earned a penalty corner in the 13th minute of the first quarter, which saw midfielder Nilakanta Sharma breaking the deadlock for the visitors.
However, in the next minute, the German forward Constantin Staib scored an equaliser making the scoreline 1-1 at the end of the first quarter. The second quarter started with the hosts putting pressure on India and earned themselves two back-to-back PCs in the initial minutes. The Indian side made brilliant saves and created a quick counterattack which led to midfielder Vivek Sagar Prasad scoring two back-to-back goals in the 27th and 28th minute taking India’s lead to 3-1 at half-time.
In the 3rd quarter, the hosts started off on the front foot again and earned as many as six PCs. However, the Indian penalty corner defence led by Skipper PR Sreejesh held sway to thwart each of the German’s attempts. Soon after a solid display in defence, Indian forwards Lalit Kumar Upadhyay and Akashdeep Singh netted scored brilliant goals in the 41st and 42nd minute, respectively to put the world number four Indian team in the driver’s seat, leading the scoreline 5-1 at the end of the 3rd quarter.
Another glorious opportunity came for the Indian men at the 47th minute in the form of a PC, which saw a direct flick from Harmanpreet Singh giving India a 6-1 lead in the first match. Playing under pressure, the hosts did try hard to make a comeback, and they even pulled out their goalkeeper to put an extra attacker in the team but a great overall performance from the Indian side ensured a 6-1 victory.
“It was absolutely thrilling to play after so long and the coach’s advice to us was ‘go and enjoy the game’ and so we did. This was the same German side who are playing the FIH Hockey Pro League matches, and I feel we did well against this squad, considering we were playing after a year. We had worked a lot on individual skills and had planned tactical play against Germany back in the camp. We just had to execute it today and it was really exciting to be back with a win,” stated PR Sreejesh after the scintillating performance.
After a day’s break, the Indian men’s team will take on hosts Germany on Tuesday, March 2. (ANI)

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Ind vs Eng: Rohit wondering about what pitch would be like in 4th Test

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Ahmedabad (Gujarat) [India], February 28 (ANI): India batsman Rohit Sharma on Sunday took a cheeky dig at the pitch critics, saying he is also wondering about what the 22 yards would be like in the upcoming fourth Test against England.
Rohit posted a photo of himself on Instagram in which he is lying on the ground and he captioned the post as: “Wondering what the pitch would be like for 4th Test.”
India had managed to defeat England by ten wickets within two days in the pink-ball Test. The match saw both India and England batsmen failing to shine and getting out to balls that did not turn and skidded through from the spinners.
But critics have looked to blame the pitch for the failure of the batsmen. After the match, Rohit had clarified that he did not think the pitch had any demons. Even skipper Virat Kohli was vocal about the dreadful batting display from the two teams.
“It was a nice pitch to bat on, once you are in, you can score runs as you saw. You just need to apply yourself and keep concentrating in order to score runs. If you look at the Chennai Test match, the second Test, it was turning hell of a lot than it did here. A lot of the batters got runs there in the second Test, in this Test, we need to be honest to ourselves and accept that we did not bat well,” Rohit had said during a virtual press conference after the third Test came to an end.
“In Chennai, it had a lot more to offer than this, we batted well on that wicket. We learn from our mistakes, guys applied themselves, Ashwin got 100 in the second innings of the second Test, Ajinkya got 50, Virat got 60-odd. If you apply yourselves, you can score runs. We accept as a batting unit, that we did not bat as well we would have liked to in this Test. We just need to take it to ourselves and we need to get back to the drawing board,” he added.
In the ongoing series, Rohit, Axar Patel, and Ravichandran Ashwin have been the standout performers and now in the fourth Test, skipper Kohli would look to come to the party and end his century-drought.
Kohli had last scored a century way back in 2019 in a day-night Test against Bangladesh at the Eden Gardens.
If India manages to win or draw the final Test against England, then the side would qualify for the finals of the World Test Championship (WTC) and the side would take on New Zealand in the summit clash. (ANI)

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ISL 7: Goa hold Hyderabad to enter playoffs, set new unbeaten record

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Panaji (Goa) [India], February 28 (ANI): All FC Goa needed to progress to the playoffs was a draw. That they achieved with an efficient performance as they held Hyderabad FC (HFC) to a goalless draw at the Fatorda Stadium here on Sunday, setting a new Indian Super League (ISL) record for the longest unbeaten run in the process.
A brilliant defensive performance from Ivan Gonzalez and some crucial saves from Dheeraj Singh was enough for the Gaurs to get the point they needed. They were lucky not to concede late in the game and a good show from Hyderabad was not enough to stop Juan Ferrando’s men from qualifying for their fourth consecutive semifinals and extending their unbeaten run to 13 games.
Hyderabad is still unbeaten in 2021 and extended their unbeaten run to 12 games, but they had to settle for fifth on the table.
Playing without their main players was always going to be difficult for Hyderabad. They missed the services of their regular scorer Aridane Santana (fourth yellow) upfront and Chinglensana Singh (red card) in defence. But the Nizams were up for the challenge and were able to match their opponents.
HFC made it difficult for Goa with incessant pressing all over the pitch and had a few chances in the opening minutes. What they lacked was the poacher’s instincts in the final third.
Goa, as usual, dominated possession and passing but they could not convert it into chances. The first half had zero shots on target as neither goalkeeper was called into action much.
Both sides have scored more goals in the second session and Goa rang in an early warning when Alberto Noguera set Redeem Tlang free on the left. The winger covered some distance and crossed to Alexander Jesuraj, who was late to react.
With HFC trying to get the required goal to progress, tempers flared along with the pressure as Edu Bedia, Tlang and Joao Victor went into the referee’s books within a span of nine minutes.
Hyderabad had their best opportunity in the 84th minute. Victor chipped in a delightful ball into the box from outside the box. Joel Chianese and Liston Colaco, both of whom made runs in behind, failed to head in from close range.
After being withdrawn, Lluis Sastre was shown a red for throwing a bottle at the Goa bench. Noguera also received a yellow and will miss the first leg of the playoffs.
Hyderabad nearly took the lead in the injury time but Gonzalez came with a crucial interception to deny Liston Colaco from scoring a simple tap-in. Later, Adil Khan almost scored an own goal but an alert Dheeraj pulled off a stunning save to send his team into the playoffs. (ANI)

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Hyderabad capable of conducting IPL as per BCCI directives, says Azhar

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New Delhi [India], February 28 (ANI): Former India skipper and current president of Hyderabad Cricket Association, Mohammed Azharuddin on Sunday said that Hyderabad is capable of conducting the Indian Premier League (IPL) this year in a bio-secure bubble.
“I strongly support the appeal by @ktrtrs. Hyderabad is absolutely capable of handling and conducting @IPL as per @BCCI’s directives and preparing a bio-secure bubble,” Azharuddin tweeted.
Earlier in the day, Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) working president KT Rama Rao made an appeal to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and IPL office bearers to include Hyderabad as one of the venues for the upcoming edition of the league.
“Open appeal to @BCCI and @IPL office bearers to include Hyderabad as one of the venues for upcoming IPL season. Our effective COVID containment measures are reflected in our low number of cases among all metro cities in India & we assure you of all support from the Govt,” Rao said in a tweet.
Progressing from the initial idea of hosting the 2021 edition of the IPL in one city, the BCCI is exploring the option of playing the league across four to five cities. While the logistical part will need further discussion, the idea has been floated and is being discussed by the senior officials of the board.
Earlier, speaking to ANI, a BCCI official in the know of developments had said the idea has indeed been discussed and while it is still early days, the 14th edition of the league could well be played in more than one city if things go as per plan.
“We are exploring the possibility of conducting the IPL at more venues than originally planned. The intent is to take it to more fans as the situation is moving towards normalcy. The feasibility of the bio-secure bubble and logistics will of course be crucial to determine the venues finally. It is a fluid situation and the health of the participants is our primary concern,” the official had said.
Some of the cities that have been discussed are Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, and Hyderabad among others. While the tournament is still some time away, franchises too are open to the idea of having the league in more than one city as that will help to stay flexible with an eye on the COVID-19 situation.
“With multiple cities, obviously there will be individual bubbles. While we want fans from different cities to enjoy the games, the safety of the players and those involved in the league will be a priority,” the BCCI official had said. (ANI)

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