It might not have the strength of the Thai League or the glitz and glamour of the Chinese Super League, but it is the I-League that could be the best league in Asia when it comes to level of competitiveness between the sides.
Another season India’s top division, which has been cold shouldered by the All India Football Federation, since the introduction of the fancier Indian Super League (ISL) in 2014, is coming to a close next week with two teams still fighting for the table.
Chennai City FC, the surprise high-flyers in the league this season, are in the lead with 40 points heading into the final match of the I-League 2018-19 season while Kolkata giants East Bengal FC are exerting pressure on the Southern outfit trailing just a point behind.
Interestingly, this is the fourth time in the last five seasons that the I-League has gone down the wire and the league champions were decided on the final match day — a very impressive stat for a league that has been losing its importance since the introduction of the ISL.
Chennai, who could have sealed their title this week, lost out to former champions Churchill Brothers SC on March 1 while East Bengal, the giants of Indian football who haven’t won the league since 2004, defeated defending champions Minerva Punjab FC 1-0 to stay in the race.
For the 4th time in the last 5 seasons the @ILeagueOfficial title race has gone down to the very last matchday. No other Asian league has a competitive record like this.AIFF & FSDL are about to butcher one of the most entertaining leagues in the world #HeroILeague #indianfootball
— Chiranjit Ojha (@ChiranjitOjha) March 1, 2019
Last season, Minerva had won the domestic championship in stunning fashion with four teams in the reckoning to lift the trophy on the final match day. NEROCA FC, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal (again!) were in the hunt on the final match day last season but with East Bengal and NEROCA cancelling each other’s chances with a 1-1 draw and Bagan held by Gokulam Kerala FC by same scoreline, the title went to Minerva.
In the 2016-17 season too, India saw a new champion in the form of Aizawl FC, who were reinstated to the league after being relegated the previous season. Aizawl won the league with a 1-1 draw against Shillong Lajong FC while Bagan finished one point behind despite winning 2-1 on the final match day.
Meanwhile in 2015-16, Bagan seemed running away with the title, but no wins from their last four matches of the season saw Bengaluru FC leapfrog them to the title on the final match day. The league finished with Bengaluru on 32 points and Bagan on 30 points!
It might be the ISL that is getting all the attention of the television cameras and newspaper columns, but I-League has made a strong point to be named one of the most competitive leagues around with edge-of-the-seat action throughout the season!