Can Don Bosco retain their MSSA title this year too?

Having won the MSSA U-16 Elite Div football title five times, the Matunga outfit are favourites to win this year too. But they will face stiff resistance from Jamnabai Narsee, Campion and St Stanislaus...

Defending champions Don Bosco 'A' (Matunga) will look to clinch their sixth consecutive Mumbai Schools Sports Association (MSSA) boys' U-16 Elite Division I league title as a new season of school football kicks off at the Azad Maidan today.

Don Bosco coach Leslie Machado talks to his players during a practice session at Matunga. The defending champions will take on Don Bosco, Borivali today. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
Don Bosco coach Leslie Machado talks to his players during a practice session at Matunga. The defending champions will take on Don Bosco, Borivali today. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar 

Don Bosco's Bryce Miranda, who was part of last year's title-winning side, said, "We won the boys' U-16 league title but were unable to win the knockout tournament. But this year we have players like Rahul Swamy, Romario D'Souza in the team apart from last year's 'B' team players like Sumesh Masulkar and Zian Kopti. I want our school to win as many titles as possible this season."

In it to win it
Don Bosco coach Leslie Machado is confident that the Matunga team can defend their title. "We will miss key players like Marc D'Souza, Aiden Da Costa, Pierre Noronha and Darryl Saldanha from last year's team. But that's a regular routine. With the MSSA deciding to have knockouts from the semi-finals I am confident that the boys can win again," Machado, who has been associated with the school's football team for over two decades, told mid-day.

However, Don Bosco will not have an easy run to the title. Jamnabai Narsee (Juhu), who finished runners-up last year, have set their eye on winning the title this time around.

Title in their sights
The Juhu team's captain Aryaman Gala said: "Since I am in Class X, this is my last chance to represent the school. Last year, we finished runners-up. There are four players from last year's team — Rachit Gupta, Harshiv Vaghela, Aryan Thadani and myself — still playing this time around. We have worked hard and I am sure that we can win the title."

Campion players practice on their school ground. Pic/Atul Kamble
Campion players practice on their school ground. Pic/Atul Kamble 

Apart from last year's finalists, Campion (Cooperage) who finished third last year, and St Stanislaus High School (Bandra), who won the Ahmed Sailor U-16 knockout title, are also strong contenders for the coveted inter-school trophy.

Campion heartbreakingly lost out on the title to Don Bosco thrice on goal difference (2010, 2011, 2012) before finishing third last time around. But now Campion's captain Klien Pinto wants to end Don Bosco's domination at any cost.

"We have always come close to winning and missed out. This year, we want to go all out to end Bosco's domination. We have a balanced side with many players from last year's team so I hope we put up a good show." Their coach Alex Wilfred Alva is banking on experienced players like Yusuf Khan, Danish Shaikh and Aldrich Fernandes to lead them to the title.

Self belief is key
Meanwhile, St Stanislaus 'A' will not have the advantage of having too many experienced players guiding the youngsters. Nonetheless, they are keen to do well. Skipper Aaron D'mello said, "Leaving Mohit Chandiramani and Sharan Murali the whole team is new. The other members are players from last year's U-14 team. We just have to believe in ourselves and hope for the best."

Today's fixtures at Azad Maidan
> Don Bosco 'A' (Matunga) vs Don Bosco (Borivali), 8 am
> St Francis D'Assisi 'A' vs St Stanislaus 'A' (Bandra), 9:30 am
> Christ Church (Byculla) vs Campion 'A' (Cooperage), 11 am
> Jamnabai Narsee vs St Mary's ICSE (Mazagaon), 12:30 pm
> St Lawrence (Kandivali) vs St Mary's SSC (Mazagaon), 2 pm
> St Lawrence vs Bombay Scottish 'A' (Mahim), 3:30 pm

This year's new format for U-16 Div I...

Till last year the MSSA inter-school boys' U-16 Elite Division I league used to be played in a league format with four groups consisting of four teams each.

The table topper at the end of the round robin matches with the most points would be declared the winner. In case of two teams in different groups ending with the same number of points, the team with the better goal difference would be declared as the winner.

This year, in a bid to ensure that the players get to play more matches, MSSA has decided to have knockout matches to decide the winner after the league gets done.

"Last year, we had 16 teams divided in four groups in the league format and there were no knockouts in the league. This year we plan to have two groups — 'A' and 'B'.

The top team from Group 'A' will play against the second-placed team from Group 'B' while Group 'B' toppers will face the second team from Group 'A' in the semi-finals. The winners will then play a final," said Fr Jude Rodrigues, MSSA president and football secretary.

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