The 15th edition of the I-League is all set to kick off in Kolkata today with as many as six sides battling it out for a good start on the opening day. We, at IFTWC, have got you covered with all the information you need to know about the league, which is set to produce some fine talents for Indian Football to treasure yet again.
All the games will be hosted in the City of Joy with a bio-secure bubble and other impending coronavirus restrictions – the Kalyani Stadium, the Mohun Bagan Ground, and the Naihati Bankimanjali Stadium are the allotted venues.
The number of teams in the competition has been increased from 11 to 13. After failing to comply with the club licensing regulations, Chennai City FC were exempted from the tournament. They were replaced by Kenkre FC from Maharashtra, while Rajasthan United were granted promotion from the I-League Qualifiers. Sreenidi Deccan FC are also hot to trot in their first year in the competition.
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It is no surprise that Marcelinho is the biggest name in the competition this year after securing his move to Rajashthan United FC. The Brazilian is in his sixth year in the country and has become a household name for every follower of Indian Football. He will be backed by I-League winner Komron Tursunov, Fabiano Alves, Akeem Abioye and Diego Bielkiewicz at his new club.
Punjab FC have one of the best Indian contingents in the league under the tutelage of Ashley Westwood. Robin Singh, Rino Anto, CK Vineeth, Bikash Yumnam, Sumeet Passi, Kean Lewis and Cavin Lobo have all been around the circuit for a long time and will channel their experience to aid the foreigners led by the charismatic Joseba Beitia, former I-League champion with Mohun Bagan.
Champions Gokulam Kerala have two new foreigners in Aminou Bouba and Rahim Osumanu after the Ghanian trio of Philip Adjah, Mohamed Awal, and Denny Antwi parted ways with the club. Sharif Mukhammad is set to captain the side in his second year for the Malabarians.
Churchill Brothers will have the veteran custodian Shilton Paul between the sticks. The Red Machines are coached by Petre Gigiu who replaces Fernando Santiago Varela whose contract expired in April.
The ‘home’ side of Mohammedan SC are fresh off their CFL success for the first time in 40 years and will be looking to continue the form in the I-League. They also had a fantastic Durand Cup campaign before losing to FC Goa in the final.
The 130-year-old club is managed by Russian coach Andrey Chernyshov and has some exciting Indians in their squad – the likes of SK Faiaz and Faisal Ali have the ability to turn the game on its head with their flair and speed. Marcus Joseph will headline the attack with Nikola Stojanovic pulling the strings with his wand of a left foot.
Yan Law, one of the youngest managers in Indian Football has been handed the job to manage 2016-17 champions Aizawl FC. He will have Willis Plaza and Dipanda Dicka to spearhead their attack, two forwards who romped Kolkata Football in the recent past and have scored in memorable derbies.
Real Kashmir‘s David Robertson has got a very talented squad at his disposal with his son Mason Robertson to lead the side yet again after success in the recently concluded IFA Shield. Fran Gonzalez, Thoi Singh, Sena Ralte and Surchandra Singh bring experience to the side which features Tiago Adan as the most potent weapon in their arsenal.
A lot of Indian managers will get first-hand experience of managing a professional side as Akhil Kothari is set to manage Kenkre FC, Khogen Singh takes the reins at Neroca, Nandakumar Singh will coach TRAU FC, and Mehrajuddin Wadoo serves as the boss for an all-Indian squad of Sudeva Delhi.
Ex-Churchill boss Santiago Varela is in charge of Sreenidi Deccan FC in their first year in the I-League. 26-year-old Colombian David Castaneda provides an exciting option for the gaffer in the attacking third for the Vizag-based club.
Finally, the Indian Arrows have a squad teeming with youngsters who have an entire season ahead of them to prove their worth against the big boys and make a name for themselves. Shanmugam Venkatesh will coach the side.
3 Foreigners to watch out for in the I-League
Very few foreigners have been able to impact the Indian Super League as much as Marcelinho. Joining the (now rebranded) Delhi Dynamos FC in 2015, the Brazilian scored 10 goals and provided 6 assists in his first season, picking up the golden boot. He has a staggering 32 goals and 17 assists across 5 clubs. He joined ATK Mohun Bagan in the winter transfer window last year and helped them reach the final with 2 crucial goals. He will be the talisman for Rajasthan United in their first season in the competition.
TRAU FC’s Fernandinho comes from the Brazilian Serie-B, the second division of Brazilian Football. That itself speaks volumes about the 27-year-old as the level of football in that division is exponentially higher than most leagues in our subcontinent. The attacking midfielder played in Vila Nova, the same club whom Mumbai City FC’s Cassio also represented.
3. Sergio Mendigutxia
Sergio Mendigutxia joins Neroca FC from Marino de Luanco. The 28-year-old striker has played most for Sporting Gijon B, scoring 19 goals in 61 games. He played 30 minutes against Athletic Bilbao in La Liga in 2016. Neroca boasts of much firepower with Sergio in their ranks.
3 Young Indians to watch out for
1. Faisal Ali
Mohammedan SC fans will have a lot of expectations from versatile winger Faisal Ali who can operate on both flanks. The 22-year-old is set to play his second full I-League season and will look to add more goals and assists to his tally.
2. Bryce Miranda
Bryce Miranda has already represented the Indian u23 side under Igor Stimac. He will have a lot of eyes on him when he takes to the field for the Red Machines. He scored 1 goal and provided 3 assists for Churchill in the previous I-League season and will need to be more clinical this time if he wants to cement his place as a regular in the national team camps.
3. Emil Benny
21-year-old Emil Benny will have added responsibility as he represents the champions Gokulam Kerala and will receive more minutes this year. He fell short of making the final squad for the AFC u23 Asian Cup Qualifiers and will look to prove himself for the Malabarians this year, who will also play in the AFC Cup 2022.
The commencement of a mouthwatering competition awaits us in Kolkata today with the Indian Arrows taking on TRAU FC in the season opener. Two more matches are lined up later in what promises to be a day to celebrate the young talents of Indian Football.
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