Five teams will go head-to-head to qualify for a spot in the 2020-21 I-League – the second division of Indian football.
Slated to be held between October 8 and 19 at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium and the Kalyani Municipal Stadium in West Bengal, the teams will play each other once in a round-robin format.
The team that tops the table after the final matchday will be promoted to the I-League.
Resumption of the League
Due to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2019-20 2nd Division League came to a grinding halt in March.
The tournament consisting of 17 teams, nine of which were reserve teams of the Indian Super League. The final round was rescheduled into a new format and all the non-reserve teams from the preliminary stage will automatically progress to this round.
Three teams – FC Kerala, Lonestar Kashmir FC and AU Rajasthan FC pulled out from the tournament primarily due to financial constraints.
Five teams agreed to participate in the league: ARA FC, Bhawanipore FC, Garhwal FC, FC Bengaluru United and Mohammedan SC.
Here’s a quick look at the five teams:
This is ARA FC’s second attempt at qualifying for the I-League. For a state which has barely caused a ripple in Indian football, the Ahmedabad-based club has become the face of Gujarat football.
Run as a multi-sports academy since 2011 (ARA stands for Ahmedabad Racquet Academy), the football club was established in 2016 and the youth academy setup has yielded rewards as local players form the bulk of the team.
After failing to reach the final round in the 2018-19 2nd Division League, ARA FC were at the top of Group C before the league was abandoned due to the pandemic.
[Kolkata, West Bengal]
The lesser-known Kolkata club has been in existence for a long time – 110 years to be exact. After kicking about in the Calcutta League for years, Bhawanipore attempted to qualify for the I-League between the years 2012 and 2015.
The 2012-13 campaign was a disaster, however the following season they lost only two matches in 18 – but were pipped by city-rivals Mohammedan SC by a single point in the final round
The 2014-15 campaign saw Bhawanipore hearts broken again. Going into the last match, Bhawanipore needed at least a point against Royal Wahingdoh to qualify. The Shillong outfit scored in the 87th minute to win 3-2 and leapfrog to the top of the table by a solitary point.
Five years later, they are back again. The run up to the tournament has not been ideal considering two of their players tested positive for COVID-19.
With former Mohun Bagan manager Sankarlal Chakraborty as their coach and experienced players like Ansumana Kromah, Philip Adjah and Shilton Paul in the mix, the south Kolkata outfit will remain optimistic that they can clear the final hurdle this time around.
The Delhi-based club was named Garhwal Heroes FC during its inception in 1953.
Aimed as a platform for young players of the Garhwali community, the club plied their trade in the Delhi Senior Division for most of their existence. After winning the title in 2013, the team was rechristened Garhwal FC.
This is the first bid by Garhwal FC to qualify for the I-League. The team had topped the group table prior to the pandemic leading to the league being suspended.
The young squad will look up to their foreign imports: Bala Alhassan, Ekomobong Victor Philip, and Katsumasa Nomura to help punch above their weight against the more experienced teams – especially those from Kolkata.
The core of the squad comes from Bhaichung Bhutia Fooball Schools (BBFC) who Garhwal FC have formed a strategic partnership with in their quest to be a youth-development centric club.
Founded in 2018, the “other” Bengaluru team participated in the Bangalore Super Division before entering in the I-League 2nd Division League in January 2020.
Following in the footsteps of Bangalore-based teams like HAL and Bengaluru FC, FCBU finished in second place behind debutants ARA FC in the group stage of the 2019–20 2nd Division League.
The restart has allowed FCBU to reorganize their squad and they have roped in the likes of players from the ISL like Rana Gharami and Amey Ranawade while adding steel with former Minerva players, William Opoku and Robert Primus.
FC Bengaluru United also have Gouramangi Singh in the coaching team. The former Indian international feels that the qualifiers are “anybody’s game.”
[Kolkata, West Bengal]
Since their relegation from the 2013-14 I-League season, Mohammedan Sporting Club has faltered in their bid to return to the I-League. They are the only team in the tournament that has featured in the I-League.
Established in 1891, Mohammedan is one of the “Big Three” of Kolkata football – however they were often seen as a distant third.
This year they aim to turn their fortunes for the better. They are coached by the brilliant Yan Law – a 27-year-old Kolkata native. Then there was some reason to cheer with the news of them securing a new investor followed by a new jersey inspired by the Marvel superhero “Black Panther.”
With Willis Plaza up front and Kingsley Obumneme at the back, the “Black Panthers” is the team to beat in the qualifiers.
Matches in a Bio-Bubble
Owing to the coronavirus pandemic, the matches will be played behind closed doors and all players and officials involved will be kept in a bio-bubble for the duration of the tournament.
The matches will be held at 12:30pm and 4:30pm. All matches will be held at the same time slots, except for the final day when both matches will be played at 2PM.
The matches will be broadcast live on 1Sports TV Channel and streamed on their Facebook page.