Monday, Apr 07, 2003
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With Kolkata giant East Bengal on the verge of winning the title after a year's gap, the 19th round begins with Dempo SC taking on Indian Bank at Margoa.
East Bengal plays its first match after resumption against Mahindra and Mahindra at Mumbai on April 9 while defending champion Mohun Bagan meets JCT the same day at Ludhiana.
East Bengal, winner of the 2000 edition, ended its 18th round with a 0-2 loss to JCT (Joe Paul Anchery and I.M. Vijayan's goal) its only defeat this year and looked set to finish on top with two home-two away matches remaining.
JCT, after the win against East Bengal, has 28 points and is a strong contender for the runner-up position. The champion is invited to the AFC Champions League while the runner-up plays in the Asia Cup Challenge. Vasco, Dempo and Salgaocar are also in the running for the runner-up slot.
The much-hyped NFL, which was interrupted twice following international engagements, has been severely criticised by many former players.
Olympian Sailen Manna said the current season had a break due to the Asia Cup and pre-Olympic tournaments and felt that this would damage the spirit for which the National League was started eight years ago. He said the AIFF should have thought twice before preparing the football calendar.
Former goalkeeper Shivaji Banerjee, stopper Shyamal Ghosh, Bagan coach Subrata Bhattacharjee and ex-Bagan stopper Amit Bhadra said the interruption spoiled the tempo of the tournament.
With overseas striker Mike Okoro atop the goal scorers' list with 14, East Bengal faces Indian Bank at home on April 13, Vasco (also on home turf) on April 25 and Salgaocar in the last match on April 28. The winner would be decided as early as April 13, East Bengal club sources said.
On Saturday, Bagan left for its match against JCT at Ludhiana. It then has games against Tollygunge, ITI and HAL, all at home. UNI
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