The past three editions of the Federation Cup, India’s premier football knockout tournament, have been held in eastern India and won by Kolkata teams.
And with the 33rd edition set to kick-off in Kolkata — Pune is hosting league matches of two groups —- it is a gentle reminder that domestic football has failed to sell itself to a pan-India audience. JCT shutting shop and the Indian Arrows shifting base to Kolkata from New Delhi hasn’t helped either.
Not that the Federation Cup has been sold well here too. If lack of advertising is one reason, important dates (one semi-final and the final) clashing with the Champions League Twenty20 meet is another. And with East Bengal and Mohun Bagan winning the last five editions, the honours list does look lopsided.
Pune FC coach Derrick Perreira agreed that Federation Cup looks like an eastern India event. “We have also analysed that. There are good sides like Churchill Brothers, Dempo and Salgaocar who will want to win the Federation Cup. But the last three years it has been East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. Having it here also means a home advantage for them,” said Perreira.
East Bengal won’t mind the home advantage, especially when a hattrick of titles is in the offing. For coach Trevor James Morgan it also means a ticket to the AFC Cup again.
One year old in Indian football, Morgan sounded confident about defending the title and bettering their record in Asia’s second-tier tournament. To achieve that, he has been ruthless while making the roster. So much so, he chose two goalkeepers ahead of team captain Abhra Mondal ‘solely on merit’.
“A year ago, I was cold and new. Now I’m much more prepared and looking forward to the Federation Cup, not only to win it but also as a way of getting into the AFC Cup,” Morgan said.
After a terrible last season where they won nothing, Mohun Bagan would first like to qualify for the semi-finals from Pune. To ensure that and more, Okolie Odafa has been finally lured from Goa and Sunil Chhetri, NP Pradeep adding weight to a roster that still has Jose Barreto.
United SC, on the other hand, will look to stand on their feet again with a new sponsor, the Prayag Group, and important additions. Viva Kerala, bankrolled by United’s former sponsors Chirag, will look to do the same. The acrimony that climaxed in the separation between Chirag and United SC gives a new twist to Sunday’s clash between the two here.
All eyes will also be on Dempo who are here without Armando Colaco, their coach and general secretary for long, because he is ill and with the national team. Colaco said he might come to watch the semi-finals. Robert ‘Beto’ Silva’s shifting to Churchill Brothers too is something Dempo must come to terms with.
Coach Maurice Afonso has promised the best show possible but it remains to be seen how well he can match up to a colleague who has won everything Indian football has to offer.