Week two saw further separation between the contenders and pretenders, and though it’s early, it looks like certain teams look a cut above the rest, while others seem like they have their work cut out for them. The season is still in its infant stages, but we have some excitement already budding around the league table – let’s see what’s going down heading into Matchweek 3.
Jerusalem FC vs, Sham FC (8:45PM on Field 3)
“Dekha hai pehli baar, Saqib ki aankhon main pyaar.” Alone. Alone he sat on draft day. Saqib ‘Ramos’ Dadabhoy (Ed Note: Saqib requested we put the ‘Ramos’ thing in) only knew one thing in his BISL career – Jerusalem blue. But, after GM Zahid Merchant faced a tough decision of who to keep going into the next season, Dadabhoy was the odd man out. This coupled with the fact that Saqib’s defensive partner and childhood friend Rizvan Merchant would not lacing up his boots this year left the man from Pickering in a disheveled state. What if he gets picked up by another club? What if he is partnered with a poor defensive partner? What if he is asked to play something other than defence? So many questions. So little answers. But slowly, things sorted themselves out. Dadabhoy fell to Jerusalem and they without hesitation brought him back into the mix, but surrounding him were a bunch of newcomers and guys he had not played with before. Unsure of what to expect, he decided to put faith in the team’s core as he had in years past, and ‘trust the process.’ The team set up a practice a week before opening day, and Saqib was partnered with newcomer Mohammad Variava, and what a pairing it proved to be. Saqib’s happy, really happy. So happy that if you look close, you see a little twinkle in Saqib’s eye when he hears Mohammad’s English accent on the pitch. Could this duo prove to be better than Riz & Saqib for the Sky Blues? It is too early to tell, but while Riz and Saqib both were aggressive and fantastic defenders, Variava and Dadabhoy have contrasting styles that compliment each other perfectly. Though not all of Saqib’s questions were answered with utmost positivity (he still has to ply the backline with champion-coattail-riding extraordinaire Hashim Ghazi for a few defensive shifts every week), the man could not help but hum the most romantic of Bollywood songs every night building up to Matchday. This week, Saqib and JFC are again without Variava and the boy named Ziggy, but look to come out proving that they have the depth to make it three in a row in the early stages of the campaign.
In six-a-side football, there are only so many ways to line up. Basically, you go 2-2-1, or if you’re really pushing for a goal, you go 2-1-2. But a squad of six won’t limit Sham’s new GM Usman Aslam from trying new tactics to better match up with the competition. Aslam set his men out in a 3-1-1 – yup, three defenders. With Anatolia’s silky display with the ball in week 1, he knew that in order to stop them, you had to limit their space to operate. And so he did just that, stifling his opponents for the first thirty or so minutes of the match. However, when Sham realized they not only had a shot of holding the Turks from putting up big numbers, but actually scoring some goals themselves, they lost their shape and pushed to put the tie away. This led to a loss of shape, and a 4-2 defeat. Sham had a lot of positives to take from the match though. For one, switching your approach just a week in shows that Aslam is not afraid to take risks and ask his squad to play in a system that gives them the best chance to win – even if it changes every week. And his men responded, but got caught up in old habits that led to their demise. Will the Orangemen maintain their shape this week? The schedule has not been too kind to the lads either, as they faced two of the three most impressive teams in the League thus far. This week? They face the third in Jerusalem FC. It will be interesting to see if Aslam goes with the 3-1-1 again, or whether he trusts the dynamic play of Ahmad Alvi and Mohammed Mahmood to try and take the game by the reins from the get-go. The team is starved of points in the table and will need a commanding performance from everybody in order to change that this week.
Samarra FC vs. Hejaz FC (8:45PM on Field 4)
I know. I know, I know, I know. We have to say it again, but it truly is the case – these guys are WAY better than their record shows. The redblacks played a good game versus Jerusalem FC last week, and fought back from 2-0 down only to give up a goal in the last few minutes to their opponents for the loss. Week 1 was difficult, as they just could not figure out how to set up defensively. GM Umer Jabbar had the staunchest defence in the League last year, and would come through on whatever few scoring opportunities they had to win games. One-nil. Two-nil. Two-one. They would shut down the opponent with excellent organization at the back, and then do what was necessary to get the W. After week one, it looked like they had to do the opposite. With Assistant GM (and Hakka-free diet advocate) Umair Jabbar now putting in work up front, and League rookies Danish Khan and Khizer Shahzad striking fear in opposing defenses, Umer went bold. He started the match last week with Numair Bari, the self-proclaimed ‘fastest man in the League,’ in defense.
Usain Numair was an all-star last year in midfield, but being the professional he is, took the role with pride and added some much needed distribution and control at the back for the boys in black. de Grasse Bailey Bari was superb in his defensive position, and played a role in the team’s offense down the stretch as well – he screened and put on the slightest of touches on a laser by Danish Khan to even up the tie last week (which he happily gave credit to Khan for - which is 'character' in the truest sense). However, Samarra face an injury crisis as newcomer Mueed Tanveer, a steady contributor to the side, faces a fitness test prior to kickoff next week. They face Hejaz this week, and if they play like last week’s version rather than the Week 1 version, they will be confident in collecting their first points of the season.
Oh, what a difference eight months can make. Since BISL’s inception, Hejaz has been the toast of the league; they won back-to-back titles, and have dropped a total of 11 points during those years. This year? The team has lost two matches, which is one more than they lost over the last two years combined. Has there officially been a changing of the guard in BISL? It’s too early to say, considering that both losses came at the hands of two teams that look in top form so far, but it’s definitely not too early to say that Los Blancos have their work cut out for them. Do you start with the defence (7 goals against in two matches) or with the offense (a shocking one goal thus far)? The squad needs to sort itself out at the back for starters. With talented marksmen like Muhammad Shah, AK and Faheem Kotwal (when healthy) in the side, the goals will surely start to come. But what about that backline? There’s talk of potentially moving one of their stronger midfielders to the back to solidify their base, and then rely on movement and opportunistic counter-attacking to put numbers on the board. Not all is bleak for the reigning champs though. Asif Ibn Rehana looks like a gem of a signing, proportionate to Sol Campbell in his hey-day, since he's come in for Salim Jaichi after the striker withdrew due to injury, and newcomer Omar Adil showed a lot of poise in last week’s drubbing at the hands of Andalusia. Those two will only build on their chemistry and will need to in order to resuscitate their side's season. It has to happen soon, as with every coming week, Hejaz finds itself in a deeper and deeper hole to get out of. They go up against fellow 0-2 squad Samarra this week, could this be the week it finally comes together? All that quality has to bear fruits eventually…right?
Anatolia FC vs. Andalusia FC (9:45PM on Field 3)
A lot of questions surrounded Anatolia after their draft, especially from yours truly. How are you going to draft two guys that play exactly like their star player Zain Khilji? There is only one ball on the pitch – how do you expect playmakers Taqi Ahmed and Kamil Lotia, both known for their playmaking ability, to share the ball, much less with someone who arguably may be the best playmaker in the League. However, Khilji knew something the rest of us didn’t. He figured that by playing with two elite playmakers, he could finish plays instead of set them up. The result? Khilji’s netted an audacious 8 goals in his first two matches, with Taqi and Kamil contributing five assists to what looks like the League’s best offense. Factor in this trio with the box-to-box play of Nehad Shihab, who is the only other Turk to score this season besides Captain Khilji, and these guys look GOOD. In MW1 they looked dominant with a controlling display against Samarra, but in week two, they got tested by Sham and showed their true grit by coming back from behind and getting another three points. However, not all is rosy on the Yellow Submarine. Defensive stalwart Shoaib Gaya missed the opening week of the season with a knee injury, and was seen limping off the pitch last week after the team’s victory. Sho6i remains a vital piece of keeping the backline strong and commanding while his teammates continue to do work up front. If he is to miss more time, then Anatolia will have no choice but to pin Nehad back as opposed to letting him storm forward when called to. Shihab is at his best when he has the positional freedom to contribute on both ends of the pitch; but losing a stud like Gaya may require the all-star to put his offensive presence on the backburner to fortify the defence. Anatolia’s flowing offense take on the impressive Andalusia this week, who have yet to give up a goal. Who will come out on top – the unstoppable force or immovable object?
I said it before, but it bears repeating…oh, what a difference eight months can make. Andalusia were repeatedly basement dwellers in the League, mustering up a meek 14 points in their first two seasons combined. The team clearly knew how to play the game, but just could not convert their performances into wins. This year is a different story. They have scored seven and have yet to concede a goal. Again, they have yet to concede a goal in indoor soccer. That is nothing short of incredible and they deserve praise for it. They play a cohesive and aggressive style of football, with every man putting in work on both sides of the pitch to keep them ticking. The recipe? New guys! Andalusia brought in essentially the same team two years running, and management recognized the need to rebuild if they wanted to succeed. Back in blue are familiar faces in the Karamat brothers, Junaid Mirza, Hassan Chaudhry and Shaharyar Khan. But the new guys are the ones making all the noise. Ali Chaudhry debuted in the league with a pair of goals in week one and a clean sheet (while rocking no goalie mitts) in week two. Zain Khan has been a rock in defense, and chipped in two goals of his own last week. And Hassan “the one with the a” Chaudhary has been giving fits to opposing defenses with his size and length up front. This team is a complete 180 from what we are used to, and the League is taking notice. With GM Mirza likely back between the sticks this week, the Spaniards look to keep their shutout season going. However, they face their toughest task yet in Anatolia, a squad that has already put up ten goals in two weeks. All signs point to this one being an action-packed match.