The Fed­er­a­tion Cup starts to­day. This is a tour­na­ment that looks more likely to sur­vive the ISL than the I-League. Yes, that is strange

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Sam Abra­ham

The Fed­er­a­tion Cup is back with the top eight teams from the league sea­son, in­clud­ing rel­e­gated Aizawl. The Cup motto, ‘Where Pride Meets Pas­sion’, is as am­bigu­ous as the fate of the tour­na­ment was un­til the Asian Foot­ball Con­fed­er­a­tion stepped in and in­sisted that a 9-team league with 18 games each wasn’t enough.

The All In­dia Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion (AIFF) was told that each club would have to play at least 20 matches to be el­i­gi­ble to play in the Asian Cham­pi­ons League (ACL). The AIFF had “put it on hold” in 2015 — the of­fi­cial ex­pla­na­tion be­ing to im­prove the sec­ond divi­sion and un­der-19 sys­tem.

The irony then is that the Fed Cup seems more likely to sur­vive the In­dian Su­per League than the I-League. The AIFF is hop­ing to have the leagues merged by end of 2018. But AIFF gen­eral sec­re­tary Kushal Das will not use the word: “We are not view­ing it as a merger of ISL and I-League. It is a re­view of In­dian club foot­ball struc­ture,” he had said. The do­mes­tic cup should then stay on, con­nect­ing the break in the foot­balling time­line. League win­ners Ben­galuru will travel to Aizawl in Mi­zo­ram o n d ay o n e , whi l e Mo­han Ba­gan play Sal­gao­car, East Ben­gal Shil­long La­jong and Sporting Goa Mum­bai FC over the next two days. (Lower-ranked teams travel in the sec­ond leg). Ben­galuru and Ba­gan have to be con­sid­ered the top con­tenders and can only play each other in the fi­nal. BFC’s fru­gal de­fence won them their first Fed Cup back when they were the new kids on the blockand­first-timeI-Leaguecham­pi­ons. Cen­tre-back Cur­tis Osano was the man of the match in that fi­nal and his pair­ing with John John­son has been ex­cel­lent this sea­son. BFC, though, do have prob­lems. Coach Ash­ley West­wood’s con­tract is due to end in a month’s time and an ex­ten­sion has not been an­nounced. “To be hon­est, I would love to stay but they have of­fered me a wage­drop,”he had said af­ter win­ning the league.

Ri­vals Ba­gan had a phe­nom­e­nal start to the sea­son, go­ing un­beaten in the first 11 games. The first loss brought a drop in form and loss of points that ended their cam­paign pre­ma­turely. The Fed Cup could make up for it a bit.

Ba­gan’s big con­cern would be miss­ing Sony Norde, I-League 2016’s best player. Along with Kat­sumi Yusa and Cor­nell Glenn (11 goals in the league), this trin­ity has been turn­ing op­po­si­tion de­fences in­side out — the best of­fence in the league.

Ba­gan had made the fi­nal in 1977, the firstFedCup.They­lost.“It­wasn’tMo­hun Ba­gan whom we played. They weren’t a club. Rather, it was the na­tional team who we played against,” saidMRa­jashekar,whose goal for In­dian Tele­phone In­dus­tries won the tro­phy. East Ben­gal are the bet­ting man’s horse in the race, but will have to go through their derby ri­vals to get to the fi­nal. Ranti Martins, the league’s best striker was quoted say­ing why it’s important to win: “I’ve been here for two years and still haven’t man­aged to help my club win the I-League. I feel ashamed. Ev­ery player feels ashamed.” Shame can fuel the en­gine when it’s run­ning out. Trevor Mor­gan re­turn­ing to the club as coach could pro­vide a booster. At t he ot her end is Aizawl, for whom this could be a last bit of fun for a very en­ter­tain­ing side. Hav­ing be­ing rel­e­gated, there’s no guar­an­tee there’ll be an I-League to re­turn to. Their sea­son might not have gone well but it’ll be dan­ger­ous to un­der­es­ti­mate the club who were the first to beat Ba­gan this sea­son.

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