El Diego aka Diego Maradona descends on India's football capital in just under 48 hours.
While the entire city would be lining up to welcome the 1986 World Cup champion, the current who's who of Indian football would be taking their respective positions from Thursday in Barasat aiming to bag a silverware of their own.
The 12 I-League teams and four qualifiers would face off over the next 20 days for the 30th Federation Cup that would also open the doors of the second tier of the continental championship — AFC Cup — for the winners.
The coveted trophy has stayed in Kolkata for the last two years. Defending champions East Bengal and 12-time winners Mohun Bagan would be among the frontrunners to keep the Cup here for the third year in running.
The Goan trio of Dempo, Churchill Brothers and Sporting Clube de Goa should pose the biggest challenge for the Kolkata giants and going by the formbook, Churchill Brothers and Mohun Bagan look ahead of the rest.
Sporting Clube de Goa are the I-League leaders at this stage but their prowess on the road is still to be tested because they have played eight of their nine games at home.
However, a lot would depend on how the outstation teams cope with the vociferous crowd. Kolkata is hosting the tournament for the second time in three years because the original hosts — Delhi and Haryana — failed to get their preparations underway. Till a few days ago, the tournament itself was in doubt due to the unavailability of the Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Salt Lake for a few days, forcing the AIFF to alter the schedule and slot all league ties in Barasat.
Even the format of the tournament has been changed this year with the out-and-out knockout format being replaced by a league-cum-knockout system. The 16 teams have been divided in four groups with the group winners qualifying for the semi-finals.
East Bengal coach Stanley Rozario and Mumbai FC manager Henry Menezes gave thumbs up to the new format saying it gave teams an opportunity go come back after initial setbacks.
"There is some breathing space as opposed to the earlier format," said Rozario, whose team has been facing a lot of criticism after a hattrick of losses in the last three rounds of the I-League.
Dempo face SBT
The opener on Thursday pits former champions Dempo against qualifiers State Bank of Travancore, followed by a clash between United SC and Mumbai FC.
Both Dempo and Mumbai FC are troubled by injuries to key players. Dempo coach Armando Colaco told HT that Nigerian striker Mboyo Iyomi and defender Sameer Naik are out while Ranti Martins was not 100 per cent.
Mumbai FC would also be missing the experienced
Abhishek Yadav and Noel Wilson in the opening tie.