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I-league 2018-19: Defending champions Minerva Punjab held to a stalemate by sturdy Churchill Brothers – football news

Defending champions Minerva Punjab had a stuttering start to their league campaign as they held to a goalless draw by Churchill Brothers at the Tau Devi Lal stadium in Panchkula on Sunday. 

Chances were scanty for both sides as the two teams kept things tight at the back. The match came to life only during the dying embers but a fantastic save from Minerva goalkeeper Bhaskar Roy kept the score unchanged. 

Minerva head coach Sachin Badhade fielded his side in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Akashdeep Singh, Arashpreet Singh, Lancine Toure and Souvik Das comprised the four-man backline with Philip Njoku and Amandeep Singh as the two holding midfielders. Nongdamba Naorem and Akash Sangwan started on the left and right flanks respectively with Opoku slotting in as the attacking midfielder. Former Mohun Bagan striker Manandeep Singh had the responsibility of scoring goals. 

On the other hand, Petre Gigiu chose to stick to James Kithan under the sticks. Wayne Vaz, Hussein Eldor, Nenad Novakovic and Nallappan Mohanraj formed the back four.Fredsan Marshall and Lamgoulen Hangshing manned the wings whereas Dawda Ceesay was given the license to roam about freely in the attacking third. Willis Plaza was the solitary target man for Chuchill. 

It was a cagey opening 45 minutes with both teams locked in an intense midfield battle. Churchill looked the more dominant side in the initial 15 minutes as Ceesay was dictating terms in attack. 

But Minerva grew slowly and steadily into the game. They mostly relied on long balls targeting Manandeep upfront but Eldor and Novakovic had the aerial superiority over the Indian striker. Naorem was a livewire for Minerva on the wings as he showed excellent technique and control to squeeze past defenders. 

The only significant chance fell for Plaza in the 21st minute but a timely finger-tip intervention from  Roy averted the danger on that occassion. 

More to follow…

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I-league 2018-19: Minerva Punjab will be banking on Hitova Ayemi for the goals – football news

Kivi Zhimomi became the first player from the North-Eastern state of Nagaland to play for a top-division club in the country when he joined I-League side Gokulam Kerala last season. With Zhimomi leaving greener pastures, a certain 20-year old youngster named Hitova Ayemi will be the sole representative from Nagaland in I-League this time around.  

Speaking to GBP Sports , Ayemi shared his story of how a trip to Shillong would be pivotal in his career.  

“I used to play football from my childhood. But it was nothing serious. When I was in Class VIII, I went on a trip to Shillong. Fortunately, at that time Shilong Lajong were holding their trials for their age-group teams and I thought of having a go. After the trials got over, the owner told me to come back after completing my Class X boards. I got really excited and I did not think twice before leaving home for Shillong after my exams,” narrated Ayemi.

Like most Indian footballers, his journey to the top has been far from being a cakewalk. 

“Back home in Nagaland, you don’t get to train in state-of-the-art facilities. We don’t even have good grounds. I used to wake up early and start training as soon as possible. I never got bogged down by that (lack of facilities) as I wanted to become successful. I had to fortify myself mentally. If you prepare yourself well mentally and have the belief, then it becomes easier. It was like ‘I had to do it no other way’,” reveals Ayemi. 

After spending a year at Lajong, he jumped ship and joined DSK Shivajians. Here, under the watchful eyes of British coach Dave Rogers, he started to improve his skill-set as a winger-cum-forward.

“My coach at DSK Dave Rogers guided me a lot and helped me to prepare mentally before a game. As I kept performing, my confidence began to grow and I decided that it is time to take the next step.”

Hitova

After spending more than two years and putting in impressive shifts for DSK in the Durand Cup, Ayemi decided to try his luck at the senior level and went for trials at Second Division club Fateh Hyderabad. The Liverpool fan had a blistering start to his career at the senior level as he banged in six goals from six appearances. 

“Playing in the second division against foreign defenders has helped me immensely. It was a completely different experience. Yogesh Sir (Yogesh Maurya, coach of Fateh Hyderabad) constantly helped me and he was instrumental in bringing out the best in me.”

Ayemi idolizes Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and like the Belgian, he likes to dribble past defenders with pace and guile being his guile. He likes to operate on the wings where he can burn his pace before cutting inside to have a crack at goal. 

The young forward missed a handful of pre-season friendlies and he finally got some game time in Assam where Minerva took part in a friendly tournament. 

“I got some good match practice in Assam and I will try my best to feature in the starting XI (in I-League). It is my aim to make my mark in the top division as well by scoring as many goals as I can. The target is always to break into the national team squad but I am taking it one step at a time.”

With Gagandeep Bali leaving for East Bengal, the stage is set for the youngster to step up to the occasion and make the best use of the opportunity at hand. Can he replicate his form in front of goal with the Warriors as well? For now, let’s wait and watch. 

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Relief for Minerva owner Ranjit Bajaj as AIFF’s Appeals Committee asks for review of ban – football news

Ranjit Bajaj, owner and director of Minerva Punjab, was sanctioned with a suspension for 12 months along with a fine of Rs. 10 Lakh by All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) Disciplinary Committee for using racist language against a referee. The incident happened during the course of an Under-18 Youth League Play-Off Match between Aizawl FC and Minerva Punjab FC at the JLN Stadium, Shillong. 

Bajaj turned to the AIFF’s Appeals Committee, challenging the judgment, while vehemently denying any allegations of racial abuse. The verdict of the aforementioned committee has directed the Disciplinary Committee to hear the case afresh, much to the relief of Bajaj. 

The main ground for the challenge was that there was a violation of principles of natural justice as no oral hearing or opportunity to present any evidence or witnesses was given to Bajaj before meting out the punishment. 

Therefore the Appeals Committee in its order directed “the Disciplinary Committee to consider the matter afresh, as per the procedure specified in the AIFF Disciplinary Code, and if deemed fit by the Disciplinary Committee, the Disciplinary Committee may provide a personal hearing to the Appellants in this regard with a prior notice of hearing at least one week in advance.”

It also advised the AIFF to update and revise the Disciplinary Code in order to bring it at par with global best practices and other sporting dispute related documents to enable more efficient decision making by the judicial bodies. 

Ms. Henna Singh Bajaj, Director and Co-owner of Minerva Punjab FC said “We were always confident that the Appeals committee would overturn the ridiculous orders passed by the disciplinary committee. Ranjit is Minerva and Minerva is Ranjit, he has been serving his ban for the last five months, and now we find out that the whole order was bad! If the disciplinary committee holds clubs to such high and stringent standards then their own functioning should be faultless.”

One needs to note that the Appeals Committee has not overturned the ban but merely asked the Disciplinary Committee to review the case once again after giving Mr. Bajaj an opportunity to defend himself. 

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East Bengal made to pay for being unprofessional – football news

The Player Status Committee of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has imposed a transfer ban on East Bengal over irregularities in their failed attempts to sign defender Sukhdev Singh from Minerva Punjab. This ruling effectively prohibits them from registering any player till January 31, 2019. 

Interestingly, Sukhdev, who now plies his trade for Mohun Bagan, has also been banned from playing any competitive match and must pay a fine of Rs 50,000 each to AIFF and Minerva Punjab, as earlier revealed by GBP Sports

East Bengal had approached four Minerva players in April and had them sign ‘draft contracts’, which is basically a contract without legal validity.

Amongst them was Singh, who had a two-year contract with Minerva running till 2019. The Red and Gold officials had contacted the player’s agent instead of the club and upon getting a green signal from the concerned agent, the officials went ahead with the signing. 

While East Bengal opened talks with Sukhdev’s agent, it was stupidity on their part to not consult Minerva or obtain anything on paper from the club before making the player sign a ‘draft contract’. Moreover, the practice of signing a ‘draft contract’ was naive. 

Libero Sports Sukhdev East Bengal

According to Henna Singh, co-owner of Minerva Punjab, the club officials were reluctant to open dialogues with Minerva even when the Punjab-based club offered to settle the matter amicably. 

“In fact, when we tried to get in touch with them (East Bengal), they refused and said they will only speak with the agent,” she told Goal. 

Meanwhile, Mohun Bagan will also be affected as they must look for an alternative if Singh’s ban is not reduced. Although Lalchhawnkima and Eze Kingsley fared well in the Calcutta Football League (CFL)  a lack of options on the bench will be a concern for coach Sankarlal Chakraborty. Gurjinder Kumar has been decent in the local league at times in the center-back role which is a shift from his usual left-back position. But whether he can replicate his performance against better-equipped teams in I-League remains to be seen. 

The transfer ban on a top club like East Bengal has been unprecedented in Indian football and it might not reflect well on the brand image of Quess Corp, the majority stakeholder of Quess East Bengal FC Pvt. Ltd. Although it must be remembered that Quess was not on board when the ‘draft contract’ was signed between the two parties in April. 

“There is an appeal process in the system. We will discuss internally what needs to be done and will act accordingly,” said Sanjit Sen, CEO of QEBFC, to Goal. 

The punishment meted out to East Bengal should act as an eye-opener for other clubs to act more responsibly as such sanctions not only hamper the footballing-project at hand but also tarnishes the reputation of the organization. 

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