The Federation Cup kicks off this week at Siliguri and Jamshedpur, with all the sixteen teams geared up to challenge for the country’s biggest cup title. In recent times, Kolkata clubs have enjoyed some decent runs in the tournament, with clubs from the City of Joy winning the tournament on five of the last six occasions. Last season, however, it was the then league champions Salgaocar SC, who lifted the title after beating East Bengal in the final by the scoreline of 3-1. This time around though, the Goan club faces a tough road ahead if it is to repeat last season’s feat.

Placed alongside Pune FC, Prayag United and I League new boys United Sikkim FC in Group D, the former league champions will have to stave off three ambitious sides to reach the semi-final stage of the tournament. On the other hand, Pune FC and Prayag United SC have come to the tournament with hopes of lifting the title for the first time in their history. Baichung Bhutia-led United Sikkim FC, the fourth and final side in the group, look like the weakest team in the group on paper. Although visualizing the Sikkim-based side winning the tournament seem far-fledged at the moment, the newly promoted I League club, however, will be hoping for a decent cup run, with quite a few experienced professionals in the side. The Group D games will take place in the steel city Jamshedpur.

Salgaocar SC

It has been quite a busy summer for Salgaocar SC. Failure to win the I League after finishing 13 points and five places behind champions Dempo SC prompted the club management to ship off some deadwood and bring in a few fresh faces into the team. Despite starting last season on a bright note with the Federation Cup triumph, the Goan sided had a slow start to the league season, and eventually ended up at sixth position in the table. However, with new players being brought in to the side with an aim of challenging for the big titles again, the greens look strong enough to take on any side in the country, and will start as one of the favourites for the Federation Cup title.

Ishfaq Ahmed, Edeh Chidi, Khelemba Singh, Jaspal Parmar, Mehrajuddin Wadoo, Ryuji Sueoka and Tomba Singh were among the most notable departures from the club. However, with new players coming in, in the form of Quinton Jacobs, Kima Chhangte, Anthony D’souza, etc., and with the core players like Lamare, Sabrosa still at the club, the greens look pretty strong on paper. Going into the Federation Cup, Salgaocar SC start as one of the favourites to lift the title. The greens will be wary of Pune FC, in particular. Their game against the Maharastra side may eventually go on to decide the winners of the group. It will be interesting to see whether the players of the club can handle the pressure of defending the tournament they won last season.

Players to watch out for: Luciano Sabrosa, Quinton Jacobs, Rocus Lamare

Pune FC

Since gaining promotion to the top flight in 2009, Pune FC have been consistently doing well in the league. However, their record in the Federation Cup can be described as mediocre, to say the least. This time around though, the Pune-based side will be looking to improve their record in this tournament and go as further as possible.

Coached by former Salgaocar player Derrick Pereira, the reds would hope to finish the group stage ahead of its coach’s former side. Meanwhile, Prayag United and United Sikkim represent different challenges for the team. While the team has crossed swords against Prayag on numerous occasions, United Sikkim are new to the scene. Navigating through the group won’t be an easy task for PFC. With fresh faces being injected into the side in the form of James Moga, Zohminglia Ralte, N Mohanraj, Sukhwinder Singh, etc., Pune FC has the required ammunition to go and lift the title for the first time in its history. Pune FC will also be hoping to tide over their extremely disappointing performance in the Durand Cup 2012.

Players to watch out for: James Moga, Jeje, Douhou Pierre

Prayag United

Federation CupIt was last season that the Prayag group of companies took over the United Sports Club. Since then, money has flowed freely into the club, and star players have been brought in during the summer with an aim of competing for the major trophies. Dempo’s star forward Ranti Martins, Costa Rican international Carlos Hernandez, India’s first choice goalkeeper Subrata Paul, star defender Gourmangi Singh have all been brought in along with others into  the club. With these star names in the team, Prayag United can surely go all the way in the tournament. The game against Salgaocar will be a real test of the Kolkatan club’s credentials. Prayag’s defence looks pretty strong on paper, while they also have some big names upfront.  If the star players stand up to their names, Prayag have a very good chance of topping the group, and even going all the way to the title.

Players to watch out for: Ranty Martins, Carlos Hernandez, Subrata Pal

United Sikkim FC

The Baichung Bhutia-led Sikkimese club are in their first season in the Indian top flight. Coached by the charismatic Philippe de Ridder, USFC will go into the tournament with very little hopes of winning the tournament. With Salgaocar, Prayag and Pune in the group, the chances of the Gangtok club going past the group stage looks very low.

De Ridder, a well known figure among the Indian football fans, can, however, have a few tricks up his sleeve. With some experienced players in the side, most notably, Anwar Ali, Zenith, Baichung, USFC do have it in them to pull off an upset or two. Although getting past the group may be too much to ask from them, the fans back home would be happy if the team gets back home with a win or two.

Players to watch out for: Baichung Bhutia, Tae Yoon, Steven Rodriguez Gutierrez

Fixtures

September 20: Salgaocar SC VS Prayag United
September 20: Pune FC VS United Sikkim

September 22: Prayag United VS Pune FC
September 22: United Sikkim VS Salgaocar SC

September 24: Prayag United VS United Sikkim
September 24: Pune FC VS Salgaocar SC

Prediction

  1. Salgaocar SC
  2. Prayag United SC
  3. Pune FC
  4. United Sikkim FC

This will be a keenly contested group but Salgaocar’s experience in this tournament will give them that slight edge required to progress.