Aussies ready to make a difference in Indian title race

Adam Le Fondre, James Donachie and Erik Paartalu Source: Getty Images, Twitter

Sport on the subcontinent this week is not just about India kicking English backsides in cricket, the 2020-21 Indian Super League season is reaching its climax and there is a reasonable chance that an Australian or former A-League star will have a big say in where the trophy ends up.

Fans down under who are missing some of the talent that left for the subcontinent should keep an eye out.

There are four slots available in the end-of-season play-off series, with teams having just two or three games remaining.

Two of the 11 teams in the top tier have already booked their places and there are five more in with a realistic chance of taking one of the final two spots. All five will be looking to Australians to help them out.

The top two places have been sewn up for some time, partly thanks to some former A-League sharpshooters.

Roy Krishna, 2018-19 A-League Golden Boot Winner, leads the goalscoring charts with 13 goals and the former Wellington Phoenix hotshot’s exploits have helped ATK Mohun Bagan take pole position.

A second title would be a case of history repeating itself as the Fijian forward scored 15 goals last season as the Kolkata club, who also have David Williams in their ranks, became champions.

Hot on the heels of the West Bengal club, just two points behind, are Mumbai City. The west coast side have Adam Le Fondre spearheading their attack with the Englishman, carrying on in Mumbai where he left off in Sydney, finding the target 11 times.

“They have been worth the price tags,” Erik Paartalu, of Bengaluru, also in the race for the play-offs, told The World Game.

The 34 year-old played against Le Fondre on Tuesday when the former Sydney star scored twice though Mumbai suffered a rare defeat, losing 4-2.

“You can tell with their movement and finishing that they are a different level.”

This Mumbai-Kolkata battle is not just about jockeying for position for the play-offs. Finish first and there is a place in the group stage of the 2022 AFC Champions League. Krishna or Le Fondre could be terrorising Asian defences next year.

For the five teams hoping to finish third and fourth, it is all about getting a chance to become champions of India.

There is a big game on Sunday as Paartalu’s Bengaluru, currently in sixth, meet Goa in fourth.

Bengaluru, who started well but a poor run of results caused Spanish coach Carles Cuadrat to be shown the door in January, need to win to keep the play-off dream alive.

“We believe we can get to the play-offs... we will keep fighting until the last game,” Paartalu said.

“It has been a difficult season. The club took the decision to sack the coach early on and we’ve not had the best of seasons. I think our squad needs to be stronger to challenge the top two who are spending big.”

That is for next season. First, Bengaluru have to get past Goa and their Australian centre-back James Donachie.

NorthEast United are currently in fourth with Dylan Fox, signed from the Central Coast Mariners before the start of the season, a mainstay in defence of the Highlanders. Hyderabad are in third with Joel Chianese in attack.

Nobody would be surprised if an Australian or former A-League star makes a decisive difference. The Aussies have done well.

“Every club more or less has one,” Paartalu said. “I think the Indian-Aussie relationship is alive and well and the plus-one rule should be Aussies again next year.”

It would have added some spice had Robbie Fowler taken East Bengal into the fray. The Kolkata giants have recovered from an awful start of one point from the first five games to turn things around.

There have been just two defeats in the last 11, though too many draws for the club to challenge.

The former Brisbane Roar boss is currently serving a four-match ban for being abusive to referees and, after this week's 1-1 draw with Hyderabad, was accused of abusing rival players after his team conceded a last-minute equaliser.