Started in 1977, Federation Cup was an effort by AIFF to include all Indian clubs in a single competition. Over the years it gradually evolved to be the primary competition for national supremacy. Fed Cup champions were usually termed as Indian Champions. After the launch of National Football League (now i-League) in the late 90s, Fed Cup has lost some of its old glitter. But it is still one of the most important tournaments of the Indian Football Calendar. The winner of Fed Cup qualifies for AFC Cup.
Indian Telephone Industries were the inaugural champions in 1977. Till date, it has been the Kolkata clubs who have dominated this tournament. Mohun Bagan leads the way with 17 titles and 30 appearances in the final. Their arch-rivals, East Bengal have 13 titles and 19 finals. Each of the last four editions has been won by Kolkata clubs. While Bagan has won in 2008 and 2006, East Bengal did the honours in 2007 and 2009.
This year’s competition starts from 21st September. 16 teams have been divided into four groups.
Teams – East Bengal, Pune FC, HAL SC, Air India
Venue – Barabati Stadium (Cuttack, Orissa)
Group A is one of the toughest groups in the tournament, can be termed as the Group of Death.
East Bengal’s domestic campaign is off to a spectacular start. British coach Trevor Morgan has deployed an attacking 4-3-3, goals have come at a frightening ease. The Red and Golds have so far scored 19 goals in 5 games in Kolkata Football League, while conceding just one. Even though they will miss some experienced campaigners like Baichung, Renedy, Nabi and Mehrajuddin, who are busy with national camp; Harmanjyot Khabra, Budiram and Robin Singh have been in great form in domestic league. Foreign recruits Penn Orji and Okpara have both settled in quickly, making East Bengal a firm favourite to retain their title.
Pune FC finished a creditable 4th in their first ever i-League campaign in 2009-10. They had the best defensive record. A big part of the credit goes to custodian Subrata Paul, India’s finest goalkeeper in recent times. Paul is busy with Indian National Team camp. Pune will have to depend on veterans Venkatesh, Paresh Shivalkar and Ajayan for inspiration. They have retained their squad of last season, which is a big boost. Coach Derrick Pereira has experience of winning Fed Cup as Mahindra United coach.
Air India, one of India’s finest Office teams may not win trophies regularly but they have often caused upsets. They have been a regular fixture in i-League since 1999, which is not mean feat. Former India goalkeeper Yousuf Ansari recently took up the coaching mantle from long serving Bimal Ghosh.
HAL SC achieved promotion to i-League last season. They will be keen to make a good start to their season.
Teams – Churchill Brothers, Viva Kerala, Chirag United SC, SESA
Venue – Tilak Maidan (Vasco, Goa)
Churchill Brothers, i-League winners two seasons ago have never won Federation Cup. It will be an uphill task for them to clinch this one as they miss a clutch of first teamers. Arindam Bhattacharya, Gourmangi, Mohammad Rafi and Steven Dias are in Indian Camp. However, they still boast of Odafa Okalie, perhaps the most lethal finisher in Indian football. Odafa’s unstoppable form saw him score dozens of goals over last 3 years. On his day Odafa has the ability to finish off any team.
Subrata Bhattacharya, one of the best match readers among Indian coaches, boasts of a unique record. He has won the Federation Cup with both the Kolkata giants. In his recent interviews he has suggested that his club would take Fed Cup more seriously than KFL. Chirag did admirably well last season, they led i-League chart for a period and almost clinched Kolkata League. Till now they have blown hot and cold in the domestic league. With Subrata at helm and a bunch of success hungry players, Chirag can upstage the big boys.
Viva Kerala have tided over a difficult financial scenario. With a new sponsor the club has been given a fresh lease of life. Experienced coach Sreedharan will have his task cut after losing some of his better players to other clubs. MP Sakeer, who was one of their most crucial players last season left for Churchill. They might struggle against the stronger teams.
SESA Football Academy will be making their maiden appearance in the tournament. They are coached by former Sporting Clube de Goa coach Clifford Chukuwama. They upset both Vasco and Sporting Clube in qualification round. Chukuwama enjoyed some degree of success in knockout tournaments with Sporting. SESA may be new to this dance, but they may prove to be a plucky outfit.
Teams – Dempo, ONGC, JCT, AIFF XI
Venue – Guru Nanak Stadium (Ludhiana, Punjab)
Dempo is unarguably the strongest team in India right now. They have captured i-League title three times in last four seasons. The squad boasts of some of the best Indian players as well as quality foreigners. And they are coached by Alberto Colasco, often called “India’s Mourinho”.
Dempo’s association with Fed Cup is not very pleasant; they have been inconsistent in this tournament. The last time they won the trophy it was marred by the tragic death of Brazilian striker Junior. Junior’s last game was against Bagan in the semi-final. Dempo are without stars like Clifford Miranda, Climax Lawrence, Anwar Ali and John Dias. But they still are strong with their foreign recruits Beto, Kalou and Ranty Martins.
JCT, winners in 1995 and 1996, have always been strong when playing in Punjab. They will have home advantage. The Phagwara based club has focused on youth talent in recent times. Their most notable acquisition in transfer market was Nigerian Daniel Bedemi. Wily coach Sukhwinder Singh may spring a surprise or two with his young team.
Sponsored by Public Sector Unit – ONGC, ONGC FC is all set to make its first appearance in i-League. They have Baba Tunde, top scorer in i-League Division-2, in their ranks. Experience foreign recruit Peter Odafe adds strength to the team. However, with the presence of Dempo and local outfit JCT, they might find progression pretty tough.
AIFF XI is an initiative by AIFF to boost Indian football. It doesn’t have a single foreign player and is mostly made up of young players with good potential. The group of players is expected to mature in time for 2018 world cup campaign. The same group of boys will represent India at the Asian Games instead of the U-23 side which won the SAFF Cup under Sukhwinder Singh. There was a lot of controversy surrounding the formation of the team. They are coached by Desmond Bulpin. Anything more than gaining experience will be a bonus.
Teams – Mohun Bagan, Mumbai FC, Shillong Lajong, Salgaocar
Venue – Barabati Stadium (Cuttack, Orissa)
Mohun Bagan’s team for this season looks a bit like some of Real Madrid’s failed attempts of recent times. Too many forwards, but weak in defence. The Green and Maroon brigade splashed cash to rope in Muritala Ali, who scored freely for Mahindra last season. Along with Barreto and Edeh Chidi he forms one of the most fearsome striker forces in India. However, the lack of good defensive midfielder and defensive fragilities has led to Bagan’s inconsistent form in KFL so far. While they have won two games handsomely, they have also drawn against Chirag and lost, shockingly to Aryans FC. Pressure is already mounting on coach Stanley Rosario from the ever critical Kolkata crowd. New foreign recruit, defender, Diamondstar has been ordinary so far. Stanley created a mini-miracle last season by taking Shillong Lajong to the final; his task will be tougher this time around. Bagan’s wonderful record in this tournament will be an added pressure.
Mohun Bagan faithful will be looking for an inspirational
performance from the veteran striker.
Can lightening striker twice? Tiny Shillong Lajong shocked the nation by making it to the final of Fed Cup last season. Despite getting relegated from i-League Shillong attracted good crowds for their home games. This season, they have lost their coach as well as some players. They qualified from Eastern zone after scoring 7 goals in 2 games. Watch out for 21 year old, pocket dynamite Seikhohau Tuboi.
Salgaocar’s glory days seem to have been left far behind. In 1997, a brace from talismanic Bruno Coutinho led them to a memorable Fed Cup win. A year later, they became the first Goan club to win National League. In recent times, they have fallen behind the likes of Dempo or Churchill. Former Bagan coach, Karim Bencharifa took over Salgaocar in the middle of i-League last season. He took over a club under the clutches of relegation and led them to a respectable 6th place finish. The squad has been bolstered with Ryuji Sueoka and veteran Yusif Yakubu. A progression to next round can be achieved if they play to their potential.
Mumbai FC narrowly escaped relegation in i-League last season. They haven’t strengthened their squad to a large extent and will be without the service of Abhishek Yadav. They might find themselves out of depth in the group.
Federation Cup usually throws up a few shocking results. In the end only one team will capture the Cup but football fans can look forward to a series of exciting encounters.
[For Complete Fixture Click Here]