Kenkre FC reviving hopes of I league returning to Mumbai

In what has turned out to be a virtual final, Mumbai’s Kenkre FC are now just 1 win away from gaining a promotion to I League as they prepare to take on fellow contenders Rajasthan United in the last game of I league Qualifiers 2021.

After 2 weeks of a highly competitive tournament with fortunes and favorites tag changing every now and then, Mumbai’s Kenkre FC and Rajasthan United are the two teams left with a shot at the sole I league spot.

With just one win away from what could be a historic day for the club, Kenkre FC has managed to revive the hopes of all Mumbai Fans for a return of the I league to the city. Over the last few years despite Mumbai City FC’s presence in Indian Super League, Mumbai footballers have been left with a void ever since Mumbai FC shut shop, with no other teams representing the city in either I league or I league 2nd division.

Despite not being new to I league 2nd division, having previously played in the competition 3 years ago, Kenkre FC weren’t exactly the favorites for the competition but touted more like a dark horse of the tournament. The likes of Delhi FC, Madan Maharaj, FC Bengaluru United, Kerala United FC were all the teams tagged favorites to reach the Final round of I league Qualifiers.

Yet at end of the group stage, Kenkre FC stands amidst the final 4 contestants with 2 wins and draw to their name in the group stage. Under the guidance of a bright young head coach in Akhil Kothari, Kenkre FC has given a good account of themselves. The tenacity in the attack through their quick wing-play as well as their resolute defense as made them a formidable team in the competition.

While Clubs like Delhi FC and Madan Maharaj have gone for big names with I League and ISL experience, Kenkre has stuck majority to their roots with 23 players from Maharashtra. Kenkre FC’s excellent campaign so far has come on the backs of local talents shining in a national platform. One such talent is Kenkre’s winger Azza Noorani, whose dangerous crosses as well as late run into the box has stood out in the games so far.

Having ruffled some feathers in MFA leagues, Azza has stepped up well at the national stage. Talking about his experience so far, Azza stated, “It’s totally a new experience for me. The teams are tactically & mentally stronger here. Every team has a different style of play which we analyze before the games & try to break them down. It’s very different from the Mumbai leagues, I have played in. We get a new challenge facing every team.”

Despite his young age, Head Coach Akhil Kothari does not look out of place. He has marshaled his troops well and built a solid team. He has studied his opponents well and there seems to be a plan for each team.

“Our coach strategy is helping us and working well. We have been following his plan which is benefiting the team. Everyone is working hard in training that’s why we are getting good results in the match in both attack and defense” stated winger Aravind Raj on his coach.

The battle is not yet won though; Kenkre were in this similar position 3 years ago when they made it to the final rounds. However, unlike this time where they are just one win away from I League, in the 2016-17 campaign, Kenkre had failed to even muster a challenge for the top spot in the final rounds. Yash Mhatre, who was part of that team too, recalling those moments, stated “There is definitely nostalgia from the last time we qualified for the final round. But I believe the past should be left where it belongs and we are prepared and much more focused than ever to go and achieve this dream this time”

Kenkre has started their final round campaign excellently with a win over Madan Maharaj in the first game followed by a close-fought draw against Delhi FC. With just one game left for the competition, Kenkre will face off against fellow contenders Rajasthan United on 23rd October with a win guaranteeing them I league promotion. Knowing how Coach Akhil Kothari has gone about his business, he will be working on a plan for Rajasthan United already. Meanwhile, Mumbai Fans for one will be just eagerly waiting for Saturday looking forward to a Kenkre FC win.

For Trial related updates: Latest trials updates in Mumbai Football

Also Read: Draw against Delhi FC keeps Kenkre’s I-League hopes alive

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