As the final round of the 2nd Division I-League 2017 is approaching, it is clear that six teams have qualified for the round. The preliminary round matches were played by 12 teams dividing into 3 groups viz A, B and C and top 2 teams qualified for the final round. The teams qualified on the basis of the home and away matches they played.
In group A, four teams — Lone Star Kashmir Football Club, Delhi United, Real Kashmir and Sudeva Moonlight FC were grouped and Lone Star Kashmir Football Club and Delhi United qualified. Lone Star Kashmir Football Club topped in their group with 3 wins, 1 draw and 2 losses. Delhi United qualified with 2 wins, 3 draws and 1 loss.
The group B was the most difficult one. The group involved one of the prestigious and oldest football clubs of India, Mohammedan Sporting Club which is 126 years old. In the group B, NEROCA FC, Southern Samity, Mohammedan Sporting Club and Hindustan FC had to pit against each other. Fans had prediction that two teams out of three teams — NEROCA FC, Mohammedan Sporting Club and Southern Samity. Fans believed NEROCA FC and Mohammedan Sporting Club to qualify. But in the end, it was slightly different although true in the case of NEROCA FC which topped in the group table with 4 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss. Southern Samity finished runners up with 4 wins, 0 draw and 2 losses and qualified for the final.
In group C, Fateh Hyderabad AFC, Kenkre FC, Ozone FC Bengaluru and Pride Sports played against each other for the top 2 spots. Fateh Hyderabad AFC registered 3 wins, 3 draws and 0 loss while and Kenkre FC finished 2nd with 3 wins, 2 draws and 1 loss; both qualified for the final round.
NEROCA had a fine journey in the preliminary qualification. In the first match which was an away match played on 22nd January at Thyagraj Stadium, NEROCA FC beat Hindustan FC by 1-0 when Ningthoujam Pritam Singh scored the lone goal of the match in 47th minute. The 2nd match belonged to Mohammedan Sporting Club. The match was played at Barasat Stadium on 27th January and NEROCA FC lost to the home team Mohammedan Sporting Club 0-2. The Imphal based club played its first home match on 4th February at Khuman Lampak Stadium and beat Southern Samity by 1-0 via Thangjam Saran Singh in 77th minute. Crowd loved that goal! The fourth and 2nd home match of NEROCA was played at the same venue on 12th February 2017 against Hindustan FC. The visiting team lost to NEROCA FC by 0-1 for the second time in the dying minute. Nigerian substitute Felix Odili Chidi scored the much needed goal for the home team in the 92+2 minutes! One big advantage of the NEROCA FC in the entire preliminary round was that it never lost to any visiting team and focused on to win in away match too. The club worked hard to keep the momentum going on and they succeeded in it. The 5th and the last away match was played at Barasat Stadium on 18th February against Southern Samity; NEROCA FC won comfortably by 1-0 via the goal by David Lalbiakzara in the 16th minute.
Now, everybody was waiting for the big moment. The next match was against Mohammedan Sporting Club and both the teams knew their positions well. The final match of the two teams was very crucial and was to be played at Khuman Lampak Stadium. While NEROCA FC did not lose a single match at the home ground, Mohammedan Sporting Club was the only team to have beaten NEROCA FC in the preliminary. While NEROCA FC needed a win or a draw to qualify for the final round, the Kolkata based club needed nothing but a win. So more pressure was upon the visiting team.
So, the last of both the teams was played on 25th February at Khuman Lampak Stadium. Both teams started nervously trying to gauge each other’s strengths. As the game progressed NEROCA FC controlled the proceedings of the match and scored in the 29th minute through Nigerian Ejiogu Chinedu Emmanuel. Crowd erupted in joy and were hopeful that NEROCA FC would win comfortably. On the other hand , the visiting team continued their persistent attacks and they were paid off at last. The visitors could score a goal in the 84th minute via Zikahi Leonce Dodoz of Cote D’ Ivoire. The two teams could not add more goals and the score remained 1-1.
Now, that six teams — Lone Star Kashmir Football Club, Delhi United, NEROCA FC, Southern Samity, Fateh Hyderabad AFC and Kenkre FC are confirmed for the final round, the teams will be playing with their all-out strength. From here, only one team will qualify for the next season’s I-League.