The 34th edition of the Federation Cup, which gets underway in Jamshedpur and Siliguri on Wednesday, is certain to offer a study on the efficacy of a new concept offered to club football in the country.
Appearing at a juncture when the concept of an IPL-style tournament is gaining credence in the minds of the top administrators in the All India Football Federation, the second most important inter-club contest in the country needs to justify its feasibility and consequence.
Horns of a dilemma
At a time when the wealth-driven new thinking looks at glitzy franchises, which would guarantee big royalties and pay for the presence of foreign stars like David Beckham or Thierry Henry, the old system finds itself on the horns of a dilemma.
In such a situation the traditional significance of the tournament will be viewed more intensely, especially by those who are expecting to see an upturn in the sport’s popularity after the country’s success in the Nehru Cup.
So, when the 16 best teams of the country revive their rivalry for the title — which also ensures a spot in the AFC Cup — the competition promises to be intense on all counts.
Nevertheless, there are other factors intensifying the challenge when the tournament gets underway, with the two venues sharing the four groups in the initial league phase.
The semifinals (on September 27 and 28) — featuring the four group winners — and the final (on September 30) will be played in Siliguri.
The dynamics of the contest — which will open the football calendar of the season — is likely to be defined by the balance in the team composition, especially in terms of foreigners and national team members.
First in the line will be the new creed of players from the National roster who will be raring to prove their merit.
Another key factor is the arrival of a new crop of foreigners, who remain the biggest surprise factor in the tournament.
This will be interesting following the transfer reshuffle which saw two of the most prolific scorers in the last few seasons — Nigerians Ranti Martins and Okolie Odafa — moving over to Kolkata after guiding the Goa clubs like Dempo and Churchill Brothers to the peak of success.
Martins has joined Prayag United SC and has paired up with Costa Rican World Cupper Carlos Hernandes while Odafa, who is into his second season with Mohun Bagan, finds Australian Tolgay Ozbey as partner.
Last year’s runner-up East Bengal, which lost Tolgay, has brought in Nigerian Edeh Chidi, whose combination with compatriot Orji Penn will be of prime importance to the team’s attack.
The Goa sides, which have been showing more ingenuity in terms of team-building compared to the Kolkata sides, have again gone for novelty.
Defending champion Salgaocar, under successful Moroccan coach Karim Bencherifa, will unleash the untested duo of the Philippines’ Agnel Guirado and Australian Sean Roney, while Subhas Bhowmick’s Churchill Brothers will field Gabon’s Henry Autchouet and the new-comer from Lebanon Akram Moghrabi.
Dempo will try out Japanese Ryuiji Sueoka alongside its last year’s striker Koko Sakibo.
When Dempo plays young Pailan Arrows in the opener at Jamshedpur on Wednesday, it will begin an essay of intense contests, which promise to throw up a host of surprise results.
The fixtures: Jamshedpur (JRD Tata Complex & Keenan Stadium):
Group A: Dempo SC, Mumbai FC, Pailan Arrows, Shillong Lajong FC (Sept. 19-23). Group D: Salgaocar SC, Pune FC, Prayag United SC, United Sikkim FC (Sept. 20-24).
Siliguri (Kanchenjungha Stadium): Group B: Churchill Brothers SC, Air India, Mohun Bagan, Mohammedan Sporting (Sept. 20-24). Group C: Sporting Clube de Goa, ONGC FC, East Bengal, Kalighat Milan Sangha FC (Sept 21-25).
Semifinals (Kanchenjungha Stadium): Winner Group B vs Winner Group C (Sept. 27); Winner Group A vs Winner Group D (Sept. 28).
Final: Sept. 30.