The 36th edition of the prestigious Federation Cup kicked off in Goa on the 28th December, almost a week after the Indian Super League concluded with much fanfare and media coverage. While the likes of Elano Blumer, Robert Pires and Andre Santos were not present, there were a lot of young players waiting to make a mark. The AIFF too was hoping that the renewed interest in Indian Football because of the Indian Super League would carry on to the Federation Cup as well. Bengaluru FC reconfirmed their status as the I-League champions as they pipped a strong Dempo side 2-1 in an entertaining final to win their first Federation Cup.
Coming into final both Dempo and Bengaluru FC were unbeaten and while Dempo were clinical in their 2-0 win over Salgaocar, Bengaluru FC thumped a hapless Sporting side 3-0. The final was billed as the clash of two in form sides and the final lived up to its billing with Dempo in particular dishing out some attacking football and Bengaluru demonstrating a solid defense. Skipper Sunil Chhetri put his side in the led from the spot in the 10th minute after Amiri brought down Eugeneson. It was all Dempo in the remainder of the first half as the Golden Eagles surged ahead in the search of an equalizer with Tolgay Ozbey and Romeo Fernandes in the thick of things. Dempo were rewarded with a penalty deep into the injury time of the first half after Johnson hauled back Amiri. Tolgay converted from the spot to level the score at the half time. Substitute Robin Singh scored in the 65th minute for the I-League champions which proved to be the winner. Dempo tried hard to equalize but an injury to Tolgay Ozbey and a red card to Rowilson dashed their hopes. After ITI won the inaugural edition of the Federation Cup in 1977, this is the first time a team from Bengaluru has won the Federation Cup.
With the win in Federation CupBengaluru FC confirmed their status as the premier club in India after the team looked out of sorts in the Durand Cup. Bengaluru FC had a tough start to their Federation Cup campaign as they struggled to beat Salgaocar 3-2 in their first match before being held to a goalless draw by Bagan. The Federation Cup triumph will no doubt boast their moral as they look to defend their I-League crown and make a mark in AFC Champions League qualifiers. The team looks settled in defense with Curtis Osano and John Johnson in the middle supported by Rino Anto and Keegan Pereira on the flanks. Eugeneson Lyngdoh has settled in well in the midfield after joining the I-League champions at the start of the season but the I-League champions lack creativity in the middle of the park. The only other worry for Bengaluru has been their over reliance on skipper Sunil Chhetri for goals. Sean Rooney has not yet displayed the form he did last year and coach Ashley Westwood would be looking to sort this out before the league kicks off.
Dempo on the other hand seem to have carried on from where they left off last season and finally appear a settled unit under coach Arthur Papas. Playing an attacking brand of football, Dempo displayed fluid formations with skipper Clifford Miranda playing as a left back and were a treat to watch. Dempo seemed to be the only side who benefited from the Indian Super League as most of the FC Goa players carried on their impressive form into the Federation Cup with Romeo Fernandes being the cynosure of all eyes. The nippy midfielder, who was awarded the player of the tournament award, scored four goals in the tournament and troubled the opposition defenders with his pace and trickery. Tolgay Ozbey who scored six goals to finish as the top scorer along with Sunil Chhetri and Mandar Rao Desai were other top performers for the Golden Eagles. Dempo look a well oiled machine and are no doubt a top contenders for the I-League crown considering the fact that Calum Angus and Costa Rican World Cupper Carlos Hernandes are set to join the five time I-League champions. Hernandes’ vision and passing could prove to be decisive given the pace and trickery of the Dempo players.
Shillong Lajong Fail To Win, Royal Wahingdoh Give A Decent Account
Playing without any foreign players in their lineup, a young but inexperienced Shillong Lajong side lost all its group matches. Thangboi Singto mentored side conceded seven goals and managed to score only twice. Having impressed everyone with their sixth place finish in the I-League last season, a lot was expected from the North-Eastern side but there was little to cheer for them barring the performances of young goalkeeper Vishal Kaith who made some outstanding saves throughout the competition. It is widely believed that the Reds are struggling financially which is one the main reasons behind having no foreign players. It will be a tough task for them to survive in the I-League if they play without any foreign players.
Having qualified from the second division, all eyes were on the Royal Wahingdoh as they took on Mumbai FC in their opening match and the team didn’t disappoint as they announced their arrival in the top flight in style, A brace from Mainpuri striker Jackichand Singh inspired them to a 2-1 win. The team gave a good account of themselves against the more fancied opponents. They lost 1-0 to East Bengal courtesy an injury time goal, lost 2-1 to Sporting after having taken the lead. They were unlucky not to win against Dempo in their last game as they conceded an equalizer in the injury time. Jackichand was the star for the Santosh Kahsyap mentored team as he scored three goals and troubled most of the opposition defenders with his pace. Liberian Bekay Bawar and Seityasen Singh also played key roles for Royals. North-East has been a tough place for the opposition teams to pick up points and Royals will be no push over.
Kolkata Heavyweights Fall in The First Round
East Bengal were tipped as one of the pre-tournament favorites and it came as a huge surprise when the Lal-Hould brigade were eliminated in the group stages. Leading 3-1 in the must win watch against Sporting Club de Goa, East Bengal conceded three goals in the last half hour to suffer a shock exit. For a team boasting the likes of Ranti Martins, Dudu Omagbemi and Leo Bertos, goals were often hard to come by. East Bengal appear an unsettled unit and have failed to find their best combination with Leo Bertos still not properly utilized. The players were often found to be slow and coach Armando Colaco has put the blame of the poor performances on the tiredness and injuries of the players who participated in the Indian Super League. With I-League and the AFC Cup coming up, it remains to be seen how they cope up with the tight schedule.
Mohun Bagan have had a typical start to their season, having replaced two defenders and also their technical director. The club are desperate to win a trophy but still appear an unsettled unit due to changes in coaching staff. Bagan played well in patches specially in attack where Sony Norde was a live-wire but there finishing let them down on most occasions. Bagan started well in most of the matches but lost their way in the second half due to poor fitness. The Mariners were in lead against both Pune and Salgaocar but failed to preserve their lead and ended up drawing and losing the two matches. There defense also seems to be a cause of concern as they are over reliant on Bello Rasaq. Coach Sanjoy Sen has also complained about the poor attitude of the players and he faces a tough task ahead of the I-League to bring stability to the squad.
The Federation Cup yet again underlined the declining status of the Kolkata heavyweights in Indian Football and both clubs need to get their house in order before the I-League begins if they have to give a good account of themselves.
Salgaocar Build On Steadily
Having already won the Durand Cup and the Goa Pro League, Salgaocar reached the semifinals of the Federation Cup before falling to Dempo in the semifinals. The Goan greens appear to be a settled unit under the mentor-ship of Derrick Periera and have a settled combination. Douhou Pierre scored four goals in the tournament and has led from the front while the likes of Gurjinder Kumar, Clifton Dias and Bikash Jairu have also done well.. The only concern for the team is their over reliance on Darryl Duffy for goals and Derrick Periera will be looking to sort this out before the I-League begins.