NEW DELHI: The Group Stage of the 2022-23 Hero 2nd Division League drew to an end on Saturday, April 29, 2023. Five teams – Delhi FC, Ambernath United Atlanta FC, FC Bengaluru United, United Sports Club and Shillong Lajong FC – have qualified for the Final Round which will be played between May 6-26.
In Group A, Delhi FC, who finished third in the 2021 Hero I-League Qualifiers, emerged as toppers and qualified for the final round, pipping Downtown Heroes FC, Jagat Singh Palahi FC and Techtro Swades United FC in a closely-contested group.
The capital side, playing out of the Minerva Academy Ground in Chandigarh, got off to a slow start after losing two of their first three games. But a four-game winning run got Delhi FC back on track before a 1-1 draw with Downtown Heroes on Saturday proved enough to seal their place in the final five.
In Group B, former Hero I-League regulars United SC and Shillong Lajong FC had quite a tussle to top the group, which lasted until the final day. Eventually, United, who last featured in the I-League in the 2013-14 season, wrapped up first place with a 3-2 win over The Diamond Rock FA on Saturday.
However, there were no worries for Shillong Lajong as they also qualified for the final round courtesy of their 13 points in six games which was enough to help them finish as the best runners-up across all four groups. The Meghalaya side were relegated from the Hero I-League in the 2018-19 season.
Group C saw FC Bengaluru United finish five points clear of closest challengers Golden Threads FC. Built on a strong defence, with just five goals conceded in their eight games, Fernando Santiago Varela’s side will now target a first-ever promotion to the Hero I-League. 21-year-old striker Irfan Yadwad was the highlight of the group stage, netting 11 out of Bengaluru United’s 21 goals.
Group D witnessed the most nail-biting and dramatic finish of all groups. Hero 2nd Division League debutants Ambernath United Atlanta scored a last-minute winner against ARA FC to win 2-1 on the final day and thus, edged the Ahmedabad-based side to finish top of the table based on a better head-to-head record. Also present in the group were five-time Hero I-League/NFL champions Dempo SC, whose tally of 14 points was only enough for third place.
Since Group B only consisted of four teams, in deciding the best runners-up team across all the groups, all participating teams were compared across the same number of matches as per AFC norms. The number of matches which were identified was equal to that played in the group with the lower number of matches per participating team (Group B in this case). Thus, results against the fifth-placed team were not taken into account for Group A, C and D. Hero ISL reserve sides were ineligible for qualification to the Final Round.
The Final Round will see the five teams play each other in a single round-robin format. Each team will play two games each home and away. The top two sides after the conclusion of the Final Round will be promoted to the 2023-24 Hero I-League.