The I-League is back, and this new season will see the much-awaited promise of promotion to the ISL put in place. Here’s all you need to know about Indian football’s second-tier competition. After two successive seasons under the bio-bubble staged in Kolkata, the league has finally resumed in its usual home and away formats giving the fans a chance to be closer to the action.
When did the season begin, and when will it end?
The season started on 12th November with last season’s champions Gokulam Kerala defeating last season’s runners-up Mohammedan SC by a goal in Manjeri. The season is set to run till March 2023 and will be followed by the Super Cup in April.
What is at stake that makes the season exciting and unique?
This season will see 12 teams battle it out for the ultimate stake – which is Promotion to the ISL in the upcoming season. This is one announcement most of the I-League club owners and its fans have been waiting to hear for years.
Who are all the teams playing this season?
Talking about the 12 participating teams, Gokulam Kerala FC, Mohammedan Sporting Club, Sreenidi Deccan FC, Churchill Brothers FC Goa, Roundglass Punjab FC, Rajasthan United FC, NEROCA FC, Aizawl FC, TRAU FC, Sudeva Delhi FC, Real Kashmir FC, and Kenkre FC are playing.
How are Kenkre FC playing this season and why were they not relegated?
Kenkre FC of Maharashtra who finished at last in the points table of the 21/22 season was given another chance to stay in the I-League and not get relegated to the I-League 2nd division thanks to the covid pandemic and the financial struggles along with it. They have been given an exemption from relegation after an appeal. The closure of the Indian Arrows project played a major part in their reinstatement. The conditions for their reinstatement were an agreement to take in several Arrows players and no travel subsidy for away matches.
Why is the Indian Arrows team not participating this season?
There is another surprising exclusion this season. Which is the Indian Arrows team not participating in the I-League. The Indian Arrows team has been disbanded. The side finished 10th out of 13 clubs last season, but the new AIFF management believed that the funds utilized to run the club would be put to better use in developing an elite youth league that can give chances to more talented players. Only time can tell whether this decision is positive or negative for Indian Football development.
Where to watch the games?
All the matches of the I-League this season will be telecasted live on Eurosport Channel (or Discovery+ app/website on the OTT platform). It’ll also be available on the DD Sports channel.
Favorites to win the I-League this season?
In our view, It’s hard to look past the usual suspects. Gokulam Kerala FC is a two-time defending champion and will be chomping at the bit to go and complete their hat trick – and get that ISL promotion. They will have a proper challenge ahead of them, though. Having appointed Richard Towa as the new coach after the departure of the Italian mastermind Vincenzo Alberto Anesse, the Malabarians had to almost wholly refresh their squad after at least six regular starters left.
Their closest challengers over the past two seasons were one of the great institutions of Indian sport – Mohammedan Sporting Club. They have warmed up pretty well for this season, defending their Calcutta Football League crown in an unbeaten campaign. The Black Panthers went to the final and the semifinal of the Durand Cup over the last two seasons and also won their first CFL in 40 years. Not to forget that they finished second in the league last season, and were a win away from lifting the I-League trophy.
Teams to watch out for?
Watch out for the likes of Sreenidi Deccan FC – they had a very impressive debut season (finishing third) and appear to have made some smart moves in the transfer market.
Don’t forget to keep an eye on Rajasthan United FC who created ripples when they beat ATK Mohun Bagan and drew East Bengal in the Durand Cup earlier this year, as they leapfrogged them both to qualify for the knockouts, as well as won the Baji Raut Cup. They’ll want to prove that was no flash in the pan.
Other teams who can spring a surprise this season include Roundglass Punjab FC, Churchill Brothers FC, and TRAU FC. All of these sides have invested heavily in the summer transfer window and will look to play a wild card by emerging as an unexpected and surprise package.
Teams with almost no expectation
Teams like Sudeva FC from Delhi, Aizawl FC from Mizoram, NEROCA FC from Manipur, Kenkre FC from Mumbai, and Real Kashmir FC from Srinagar can also give joy to the fans with their beautiful style of football, although they are the sides with the least hopes of performing well this term.
Who do you think will be winning the I-League this season and also getting a historic promotion to Indian Super League next season? Let us know about your opinion in the comments below.
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