TheAi??main eventAi??or the quarter final group stageAi??of the 124th edition of Durand Cup will kick off at the Ambedkar Stadium in the national capital from Tuesday. Indian Air force and BSF grabbed the two qualifying slots to complete the quarter final line-up after emerging victorious in the knockout stages.

The knockout round for the 124th edition of the Durand Cup began on 24th of September with a total of 17 teams slugging it out for the two available qualifier spots in the quarter finals of the tournament.

Durand Football Tournament Society (DFTS) has decided to triple their overall budget for this season to 1.54 crore, with the winners now receiving Rs. 20 lakh instead of the previous Rs. 5 lakh prize-money. However, this did not deter some of the major powerhouses of Indian football like Dempo, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal from withdrawing their teams from the prestigious tournament.Ai?? Couple of days back Mumbai FC and HAL Bangalore who were placed in group II and IV respectively also joined the bandwagon and withdrew from the quarter final stage leaving the organizers in a fix. Replacing them in the quarter finals will be two extremely popular teams Mohammedan Sporting in group IV and Shillong Lajong in group II.

The quarter finals will have four groups with three teams each with the winner of each group moving onto the semi finals which is to be played on October 12th leading up to the final on the 15th of the month. TheHardTackle here brings you the quarter final stage preview of the oldest tournament in Asia.

Will the defending champions be able to defend their crown?


Group I (Salgoacar SC, Prayag United, BSF)

After completing a rare double of winning the League and then the Federation Cup, Bencharifaai??i??s men will be raring to lift their third trophy in five months.Ai?? With Prayag United in the mix, it will not be a walk in the park for the national champions and one can always expect few surprises from BSF, who have performed quite exceptionally under their 1988 Durand Cup winner coach Avtar Singh. Although the Goan outfit are tipped to be the favorites to lift the Durand Cup they cannot take either of the sides lightly – especially Prayag United who are the defending champions.

Salgoacar SC were stretched to the last minute by Shillong Lajong in the Fed Cup semi final but comfortably defeated the mighty East Bengal in the finals to lift the Federation Cup after a long wait for 14 years. The Goan side is riding high on the form of Edeh Chidi who has been in the thick of action for them. Winner of Salgoacar v/s Prayag United is expected to sail into the semi finals but expect the rejuvenated and rechristened Prayag to give Bencharifaai??i??s side a run for their money.

The defending champions Prayag United find themselves in a tight spot with the presence of Salgaocar in their group. Sanjay Senai??i??s outfit will have to rely heavily on their foreign strikers Joshimar da Silva Martins and Yusif Yakubu along with Kayne Vincent – who will most probably be used s a substitute. Prayag has a potent strike force in these three players but it looks highly unlikely that they will be able to make inroads into the water tight backline of Salgaocar SC.

THT Match of the Group

SalgaocarSC v/s Prayag United

The Kolkata side might push the Goan outfit to their limits but THT predicts Salgaocar SC to walk out of this match will full three points.

THT Group Winner: Salgaocar SC


Group II (Shillong Lajong, United Sikkim FC, IAF)

Indian Air Forceai??i??s narrow 1-0 victory over rivals CRPF confirmed their place in Group B of the quarter finals where they join debutant United Sikkim FC and Federation Cup semi finalist Shillong Lajong FC.

IAF would be hoping to improve upon their last seasonai??i??s performance when they reached the quarter finals before crumbling against Pune FC and the eventual champions Prayag United. A strong back-line comprising of R.S. Raj, TV Sujith and Rahmat Ali has been the lifeline of the IAF in the knockout stages and these three will have to play out of their skin if the club wants to progress onto the next stage. The onus of scoring lies on the shoulders of G.S Sandhu, who has been their leading scorer in the initial stages of the tournament and he would be hoping to repeat his knockout stage performances in the group stage as well.

Playing for a different cause all together


Sikkim was recently rocked by a devastating earthquake and Bhutiaai??i??s Sikkim United football club was at the forefront of setting up major relief camps in the northeast region. In their maiden appearance in the Durand Cup they have nothing to lose as not many have pinned up any expectations on them but when the Sikkimese outfit steps on the pitch in the quarters they will be playing for the people of Sikkim more than anything else. The team has progressed steadily under the watchful eye of Stanley Rozario. Presence of Bhutia along with Renedy Singh, Govin Singh and Sushil Kumar who all bring in wealth of experience with them gives the Snow Lions an edge over both Shillong Lajong and IAF.

The last minute loss in the Fed Cup semifinal against Salgoacar SC would have been difficult to forget for Shillong Lajong but that is something that they will have to shrug off quickly come 4th of October. After putting in a gritty performance in the match, the 89th minute strike by Chidi dashed all their hopes of reaching the Federation Cup Final. A defeat like this is bound to deflate any outfit but Pradyum Reddyai??i??s boys should try to pick positives from their Fed Cup outing. Their display against the I-League champions showcases that their squad possesses the quality to rattle even the major heavyweights of Indian football. In Lalchuanmawia, Lyngdoh, Lalramluaha and John D. Menyongar the side from Meghalya boasts of a formidable midfield which can change the course of any match.

THT Match of the Group

United Sikkim FC v/s Shillong Lajong

The match between United Sikkim and Shillong Lajong is most likely to act as the group B decider and TheHardTackle sticks its neck out and predicts Sikkim United to emerge victorious in the clash of two North East outfits.

THT Group Winner : United Sikkim FC

Ai??
Group III (Pune FC, Air India, ONGC)

Group C could prove to be the most exciting group among all due to the absence of any major Ai??I-league heavy-eights from it. Each side in the group, on its day, has the pedigree to beat the other – which could throw this group wide open.

After ONGC FC’s relegation from I-League this season, the clouds of disbanding surrounded the club as they were expected to follow the path of JCT but in July the club came out with a statementAi?? against any disbanding which came as a relief to their fans. Their performance however in the Federation Cup qualifiers was highly disappointing as they finished at the bottom of the qualifying round of group B. ONGC are not expected to move into the next stage but on their day they can prove to be the party spoilers for the remaining two teams.

Pune FC will hope to make it till last four


With players like Subrata Pal, Izumi Arata and Jeje Lalpekhlua in their ranks, the side from Pune are the favourites to advance from group C unless Santosh Kashyapai??i??s Air India spring up a surprise in their matches. Ai??Air India and Pune FC both finished at third position in their respective groups in the Fed Cup with one win, win loss and one draw to their names. Ai??Pune was slotted against teams like Dempo and East Bengal, while the Airmen had comparatively weaker group opponents.

THT Match of the Group

Pune FC v/s Air India FC

According to THT this Ai??would be the match to watch out for in the group C with odds tilting heavily inAi??favorAi??of the men from Pune.

THT Group Winner : Pune FC


Group IV (Mohammedan Sporting
, Churchill Brothers, Army Red)

Services Champions Army Red got a direct entry into the quarter finals of the 124th edition of the Durand Cup. They find themselves Ai??pitted against the mighty Churchill Brothers from Goa and Mohammedan Sporting from Kolkata. It’s nothing short of a DAi??jAi?? vu that Army Red finds itself in the same group as the Goan giants Churchill Brothers along with MSC in a repeat of last year’s group stage fixtures. Absence of Churchill’s Nigerian goal-machine Odafa Okolie – who left for Mohun Bagan, will instil some much needed confidence in the Services champions as the Nigerian completely outplayed them last year netting in a hat trick in their group decider.

Initially HAL Bangalore was slated to play in the quarter finals but a last minute cancellation by the club paved way for one of the oldest Indian club – Mohammedan Sporting. In spite of playing in the 2nd division, the Kolkata outfit boasts of arguably the second biggest fan base in the nation, after their city-rivals East Bengal – which was a major factor behind their selection as HALai??i??s replacement. Coached by Aloke Mukherjee, the Black Panthers have won the Durand cup once way back in 1940. In 1987 MSC won their last major trophy when they lifted the Rovers Cup and would be looking to spring in some surprises in this yearai??i??s edition of the Durand Cup. The fate of Mukherjeeai??i??s squad will chiefly depend on the striker partnership of their Nigerian striker duo of Felix Chimaokwu and Stanley Okoroigwe.

Will they repeat the heroics of 2009?


The 2009 champions and 2010 semi finalists Churchill Brothers should consider themselves lucky as they are placed in a fairly easy group. However, their present form should be a cause of concern for their manager Manuel Gomez. Their performance in the Fed Cup was fluctuating to say the least which saw them pick up a comfortable victory against Shillong Lajong and then losing against the minnows Royal Wahingdoh which would go on to haunt them after they drew against Mohun Bagan, which eventually kicked them out of the competition. Departure of Odafa to Bagan earlier this summer could hamper their chances in the later stages of the tournament but the Goan side should not face any difficulties in making it to the last four.

THT Match of the Group

Churchill Brothers v/s Army Red

Churchill minus Odafa still look good enough to pick up a victory against the champions from Services and cruise into the last four.

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