AIFF Media Team
New Delhi: The battle for promotion into the top flight has now begun as the likes of Chhinga Veng, TRAU FC, Ozone FC and Lonestar Kashmir got the Hero Second Division underway in Aizawl and Bengaluru on Monday, April 29.
The Hero Second Division League started off with a total of 16 participants that were divided into three groups. While Lonestar Kashmir and Ozone FC qualified as the toppers (non-reserve teams) of Groups A and B, respectively, Chhinga Veng and TRAU came through after an exhilarating final day, when four teams were still in contention.
Now, with the Final Round underway, we are all set to see what transpires as the top four Second Division teams from across the country face-off against each other. On that note, let’s take a look at the teams that are on display in the Hero Second Division.
Lonestar are the team that has made it through to the Final Round with the least number of wins – three. They had, in actuality, finished third in their group, with just 11 points from eight games.
However, the fact that Bengaluru FC Reserves and FC Goa Reserves took the top two spots helped their cause, as they merely had to pip ARA FC by just a point to clinch a spot in the Final Round.
The Kashmiri side, though, will be motivated to get themselves to the top division, where they will be able to face local rivals Real Kashmir. Lonestar have a good mix of foreigners and Indians in their squad, that could inflict damage on their opposition.
Local forwards Basit Ahmed Bhat and Atinder Mani have lit up the show, with good support from the middle of the park by Nigerian Hamza Auta Abdullahi. The 24-year-old midfielder is, in fact, Lonestar’s highest scorer in the Preliminary Rounds so far.
Ozone have by far been the most prolific team in the Preliminary Rounds so far. They have scored the most number of goals than any of the other three teams that have qualified from the Preliminary Rounds.
In fact, along with Bengaluru FC, Ozone are the only team to have finished the Preliminary Rounds without losing a single match.
The side from Bengaluru also has a good mix of experience and youth. Their academy product, a 17-year-old Manvir Singh, has run his legs off, scoring three goals so far.
However, it has been their experienced head up front, in the form of CS Sabeeth, who has taken up the bulk of the goalscoring responsibilities. The former Mohun Bagan man has netted five times so far.
Coming from a group that was as tight as ever, even till the final matchday, Chhinga Veng have clawed their way to the Final Round having earned the top spot in Group C.
Among the teams that have made it to the Final Round, Chhinga Veng have scored the second highest number of goals – 17. Incidentally, this team is not reliant on their forwards to score the goals.
In fact, it is their two defenders – Imanuel Lalthazuala and Lalliansanga Renthlei – who have scored the most number of goals for the club in the Preliminary rounds (four and three respectively).
Chhinga Veng are traditionally one of the strongest clubs in the North-eastern regions of the country and have been traditional rivals of former Hero I-League champions Aizawl FC in the Mizoram Premier League, which makes them real contenders for promotion.
TRAU have been on erratic form this season. While they have lost a few matches that they should perhaps have gotten results out of, the team from Manipur has also beaten the likes of Mohammedan Sporting and Chhinga Veng on their way to the Final Round.
In fact, the win (3-2) against Chhinga Veng came on the final matchday; these three points enabled the side to progress to the Final Round.
Princewell Olarchie Emeka has been on fire for TRAU, having netted eight times during the Preliminary Rounds. He is well on his way to clinching the Hero Second Division top scorers’ award, as Mohammedan Sporting have not been able to qualify, leaving Tettey Philip on 10 goals.
Like Lonestar, TRAU will also have an added motivation for gaining promotion. Their local rivals Neroca FC are in the Hero I-League, and the two teams will be playing the Imphal Derby next season if TRAU win the Hero Second Division in this campaign.