Federation Cup kicks off today

National football returns to Kerala

The football scene is set to come alive again after a brief lull with the Federation Cup kicking off on Tuesday, bringing national-level action back to Kerala, one of the heartlands of the game in the country.

Fans in the state have been starved of quality action with no clubs figuring in the I-League. But for two weeks at least, that will change, with all the top teams figuring in the tournament, with matches at the new MDS Stadium in Manjeri and also at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi.

Sixteen teams have been divided into four groups, with only the league winners qualifying for the knockout semifinals on January 23. Group A and Group C matches will be held in Kochi while Group B and Group D will be staged in Manjeri, a town that has some of the hardcore followers of the game in the country.

Perhaps, it is fitting then that the town gets to host the matches in Group B, that has been dubbed as the Group of Death. Defending champions East Bengal figure in the group along with I-League leaders Bengaluru FC, Sporting Clube de Goa and Rangdajied United and sparks will fly as the teams vie for the lone qualifying spot.

In their first season, Bengaluru FC have done really well to be perched atop the I-League but their coach Ashley Westwood pointed out that the Federation Cup is a different event altogether.

 “One thing is for sure, the league table will not determine who is the strongest at the Federation Cup,” Westwood told the-aiff.com.

In their title-defence, East Bengal will miss their midfield general Mehtab Hossain who has been ruled out of the tournament with an injury.

Oscar Bruzon’s Sporting Clube have also been in fine fettle winning eight of their 14 matches in the I-League so far. The Goan outfit has some local youngsters to look out for. 

The likes of midfielders Rowlin Borges, Pratesh Shrodkar, India International Victorino Fernandes, and goalkeeper Ravi Kumar have been instrumental in the their success so far this season.

Group C, featuring Salgaocar FC, have this season’s giant killers Mumbai FC, Shillong Lajong and also Mohun Bagan, who have a formidable record in the tournament.

Consistent Pune FC are in Group A which also has some local flavour in the form of Eagles FC who would want to leave a mark against the likes of defending I-League champions Churchill Brothers and United SC. 

The event is also an opportunity for Clubs like Bhowanipore FC and United Sikkim to prove a point by pulling off a few upsets against more formidable opponents in the form of Mohammedan Sporting and Dempo SC in Group D.

 

Groupings: Group A: Churchill Brothers, United S C, Pune FC, Eagles FC.

Group B: Sporting Clube de Goa, Bengaluru FC, East Bengal, Rangdajied United. Group C: Salgaocar, Mohun Bagan, Mumbai FC, Shillong Lajong.

Group D: Dempo, Mohd Sporting, Bhawanipore FC, United Sikkim.

Tuesday’s fixtures: Dempo vs Bhawanipore FC, Mohd Sporting vs United Sikkim; Churchill vs United SC, Pune FC vs Eagles FC.

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