For reasons beyond football, Bhaichung Bhutia is unlikely to be there. However, what he and his India teammates did, exactly 12 days ago, should ensure the kind of following the Durand Cup hasn’t seen in a while.
India’s triumph at the Nehru Cup is still fresh in memory and the 122nd edition, which enters the quarterfinal stage on Friday, should benefit from that.
The India skipper will be sorely missed, but there will be a host of other stars like Sunil Chhetri, Steven Dias, NP Pradeep, Gourmangi Singh, Renedy Singh and Subhasish Roy Choudhury to pull in the crowds. Add Okolie Odafe, Jose Barreto, Edeh Chidi and Marcos Perreira to the list and it becomes pretty impressive.
Like in the 114th IFA Shield, the clubs will use this meet as platform ahead of the gruelling I-League season but as far as national players are concerned, it is like asking for too much.
Those contracted with East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, Churchill Brothers and Mahindra United flew to Kolkata a few hours after the Nehru Cup final for the Shield. Mohun Bagan and Churchill Brothers, who played 120 minute semifinals this week, will meet in the Shield final on Saturday and then hit the Capital.
“It will be a good platform for the clubs to prepare for the I-League. In fact, playing in the IFA Shield will also help them prepare better for the season ahead,” said Gourmangi.
“But personally speaking, the players, who were part of the national team during the Nehru Cup, could have been rested for these tournaments,” the India central defender added.
The return of Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Dempo — the Kolkata outfits skipped the last two editions while the Goans were absent the last time — is expected to add competitive edge to the tournament.
Today’s fixture: Air India vs Army XI