The 35th Federation Cup, held in Kerala this season, produced its fair share of surprises over the course of the last 12 days. With some of the big sides falling early, the tournament was left wide-open by the semi-final stages. Eventually, it was a consistent Churchill Brothers side which lifted the crown in Kochi on Saturday evening, with the I-League title holders brushing aside a strong Sporting Clube side by a scoreline of 3-1. The cup triumph will surely bring a few smiles in the Churchill camp, with the club lying at the bottom of the table in this season’s I-League, and will be a huge morale-booster ahead of the crucial second half of the I-League campaign.
The final game turned out to be much easier than projected for Churchill Brothers, with Sporting Clube making some crucial errors at the back to hand the title to the Reds. The I-League champions took the lead in the 21st minute, with Balwant Singh, who has been one of the brightest spots for Churchill in an otherwise grim league campaign, taking advantage of a defensive mix-up in the Sporting backline to put the Reds ahead in the game. The disorganized backline of Sporting Clube went on to cost the Flaming Oranjes the game, and subsequently the title, as Churchill took advantage of some more poor defending to double their lead, a couple of minutes into the second half. Abdelhamid Shabana then struck the final nail in Sporting’s coffin in the 63rd minute, as he latched on to a brilliant pass by Saran Singh and produced a superb finish to stretch Churchill’s lead. Victorino Fernandes pulled back a consolation for Clube a few minutes later, but his side didn’t really trouble Churchill again in the game to create a thrilling finale, as the Reds celebrated their maiden cup triumph. The Federation Cup title win comes on the back of an extremely underwhelming start to the league title defence by Churchill, and the Reds will hope that it provides the inspiration to turn their grim league season around, and survive relegation.
The biggies fall early
Some of the pre-tournament favorites failed to even make it past the group stages, with East Bengal, Bengaluru FC, Salgaocar and Pune FC faltering at the first hurdle. East Bengal and Bengaluru were both part of the dreaded group of death, and will rue dropping points against a spirited Rangdajied United side, which eventually cost them a place in the semis. Salgaocar, meanwhile, were annihilated by a scoreline of 4-0 by an understrength Shillong Lajong side in their first group game, which all but ended their hopes of progressing from a tough group. Pune FC, on the other hand, had an extremely forgettable campaign, with just a point to show for their efforts in the three games and with the AFC Champions League a few days away, things are not looking good for The Red Lizards.
The minnows put up a show
With some of the big boys failing to make it past their groups, some of the lesser fancied sides shone throughout the group stages. Eagles FC and Rangdajied United put up some brilliant displays during the tournament, and although they failed to make it into the semis, they did seriously damage the chances of some of the other sides in their groups. Eagles FC, in particular, were quite entertaining to watch, and a narrow 2-1 defeat to eventual champions Churchill was the only blot of their campaign. Former Dempo forward Koko Sakibo was the star of the team, scoring all of Eagles’ goals in the tournament. The Fed Cup was indeed a major boast for Eagles who will now go into the I-League division-2 with a lot of confidence.
Thousands throng the stands at Manjeri
Manjeri played a brilliant host to the tournament, with thousands of Malappuramkkarans thronging the stands of the MDSC Stadium during all the games of the tournament. The fact that the locals came in such large numbers to watch games, involving clubs from other cities, speaks volumes of their love for the beautiful game. Despite the empty stands of Kochi, Manjeri made sure that the rest of the country took note of the Keralites’ passion for the beautiful game.
While the tournament produced some great moments, it had its fair share of problems. The amateurish organizing of the tournament by Kerala Football Association was quite visible on occasions. The fact that the state governing body couldn’t provide clubs with quality training grounds was an insult to domestic game, and put Indian football in poor light. Arthur Papas and Darryl Duffy complained about the quality of the pitches being provided in Kochi, which looked to be in absolutely pathetic states. Moreover, broadcasters Ten Action made a major gaffe by not telecasting games from Manjeri. While the MDSC did have problems related to the floodlights, Ten’s inability to lobby for games during the day and better facilities for broadcasting, earned some serious stick from Indian fans on social media.
With the curtains being drawn on the tournament on Saturday, the AIFF, KFA and Ten Action will have learnt some important lessons from the tournament. KFA, especially, will have to improve their organizing standards if they are to host another major tournament in future. IMG-Reliance, on the other hand, will have to be more pro-active in their marketing activities for the domestic game. Bullying I-League clubs for the cause of a reality show, and then sitting idle for the rest of the time, will probably not count as a marketing activity.