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Dempo, Minerva eye I-League promotion in League 2 decider

SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images

Match facts

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Start time: 1600 local

Venue: Nehru Stadium, Fatorda

Big picture

Five-time national champions Dempo currently lead the second division standings with 20 points from 9 matches and will need just a point to progress to the top division of I-League for the 2016-17 season. Dempo's performances this season have been based on their solid defence - they have conceded only three goals in their matches thus far - and they have some of the best Indian talent in the country. Foreign players Chika Wali in defence and striker Felix Odi Chidili have also pulled their weight considerably, though the latter might be unavailable due to injury. Coach Mauricio Afonso will also miss strikers Uttam Rai through injury and Holicharan Narzary, who is away with the Indian team for their AFC Asian Cup qualification matches against Laos.

Minerva Academy had topped the Western Conference matches in the early rounds, finishing four points ahead of Dempo. The Chandigarh-based team is bidding to become the first from north India to feature in the I-League since JCT withdrew after the 2010-11 season, and for them nothing less than a win will do. Minerva kept their title bid alive with an exciting 3-2 win over Neroca FC on May 19, where captain Simranjit Singh scored two of the goals for them. Their other goalscorer, Nigerian defender Kareem Omolaja, will be missing through suspension.

Form guide (last five matches, most recent first)

Dempo SC WDWWW

Minerva Academy FC WWDWW

Head to head

Played - 3, Dempo - 2, Minerva Academy - 1

In the spotlight

One of the most experienced players in the Dempo lineup is former India international Debabrata Roy, who is returning from injury. Afonso would be tempted to start Roy, who can be slotted in at either of the wingback positions. His ability to send in long throw-ins would also be invaluable to keep Minerva under pressure.

Minerva coach Surinder Singh calls his goalkeeper Arshdeep Singh - a regular member of the national under-19 team - the lifeline of his team. Arshdeep's communication with defenders Arashpreet Singh and Ramandeep Singh has also been critical to the success of the team from Punjab.

What they said

"We've played well all season, but it all comes down to Sunday's match. This game is like a final for us, though we can still make it through with just a draw, but I've told the boys that we cannot afford to play for a draw." Mauricio Afonso, Dempo coach

"Our biggest strength is team spirit. We don't have any big stars, so we have to depend on our levels of physical fitness. Our boys play together - you could call us the pride of Punjab." Surinder Singh, Minerva Academy coach