CHENNAI: No Bollywood celebrity will be in the stands, nor will any cricketers be watching on with bated breath! After the glitz and glamour of the Indian Super League, the less-fashionable face of Indian football will kick off with the Federation Cup in Goa, on Sunday.
The ISL may have unleashed optimism into the atmosphere, but a more accurate picture of football in the country will be painted when I-League champions Bengaluru FC take on Salgaocar in the opener. It remains to be seen how many people will tune in when Ten Sports quietly begins telecast of what was India’s premier club cup until four months ago. On the pitch, things look much better than when the previous edition of the tournament held in Kerala bloated up its schedule with sub-standard teams from the I-League second division. Ten teams of the eleven I-League teams, barring new entrants Bharat FC, will fight it out for the crown. Last year’s champions Churchill Brothers though will not be defending their title after failing the AFC club licensing criteria.
The ten teams have been divided into two groups, with all eyes in Group B which brings together Bengaluru FC, Pune FC, Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan and Shillong Lajong, alongside home side Salgaocar. Group A will have Dempo, East Bengal, Mumbai FC, Royal Wahingdoh and Sporting Clube de Goa.
Under normal circumstances Bengaluru FC would have been favourites after their exploits in the I-League last year. But with Dempo, Shillong Lajong, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan loaded with battle-ready players returning from their ISL adventure, Ashley Westwood’s men face a tough task. “The Federation Cup will give us our first taste of tough competition. We’re going to go there with the intention of winning it, but in a cup tournament you can never tell who’s going to win, especially when you reach the knockout rounds,” he said.