The stop-gap nature of the Indian domestic club football calendar reaches its finish line with the 2017 Federation Cup beginning on 7th May.
I-League, the topmost division of league football in the nation will conclude on 30th April, just seven days before the start of the Federation Cup. The winners are yet to be determined as both Mohun Bagan and Aizawl FC have a chance to be champions, the latter for the first time in their history, going into the last matchday of the current season.
Coincidentally both these teams were also the finalists of last year's edition of the cup competition where the Kolkata giants routed Aizawl FC 5-0 in the final at Guwahati to be crowned a record 14th-time champions.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) reverted back to the old format of a single venue hosting all the matches from last year's home and away knockout style. While only eight teams would enter the competition, effectively ruling out the bottom two of the ten team I-League.
The penultimate round of the I-League had already decided the eight participating clubs. Bottom-placed Minerva Punjab FC and the now relegated ninth-placed Mumbai FC can only finish on 15 and 16 points each if they win their respective last round games with eighth-placed DSK Shivajians already having 17 points in their kitty before the enter the last weekend.
On the eve of the final round of the league, Aizawl FC lead the table with Mohun Bagan a close second. East Bengal, Bengaluru FC, Shillong Lajong FC, Churchill Brothers and DSK Shivajians make up the remaining six teams which would be based in the Odisha city for at least a week.
The eight teams will be divided into two groups. Group A would have the 1st, 3rd, 6th and 8th placed teams from the I-League. Subsequently, Group B would have the teams who finish 2nd, 4th, 5th and 7th come Sunday.
Possible 2017 Federation Cup groups (as per I-League standings on 28th April 2017):
Churchill Brothers SC
Shillong Lajong FC
Chennai City FC
It will be a round-robin format (each team plays each other once) and the top two sides will qualify for the semi-finals. Each day would see both games of one particular group being played out with the evening kickoff at 4 PM and the late match beginning at 7 PM. The twelve games will be played out in six days (Sunday 7th May - Friday 12th May). Both semi-finals are slated to be played out on Sunday 14th May.
Interestingly, Bengaluru FC and Mohun Bagan will have to play an AFC Cup 2017 Group E fifth matchday fixture at the latter's home ground - Rabindra Sarobar Stadium in Kolkata on 17th May.
If either of these two teams qualifies for the final, the grand fixture has to be postponed until Sunday 21st May, otherwise, the current domestic footballing calendar of the 101st ranked FIFA member would draw to a close on Thursday, 18th May itself.
"The preparation to host to Fed Cup has reached its final phase. Almost all work left will be wrapped up soon. Officials from AIFF's competitions committee visited the Barabati Stadium earlier this month and were satisfied with the arrangements. Team managers of Bengaluru FC and East Bengal paid us a visit in the last week and they were happy with the playing field as well", a senior official of the Odisha FA revealed to Goal.
He added, "Even IMG-Reliance officials had done a recce of the facilities. We aim to provide four training grounds withing Cuttack itself. Some teams will be staying in the adjacent capital city of Bhubaneshwar and the Railway Stadium there will also be made available."
"Tickets have gone on sale at the counters. The lowest price one has to pay will be ₹ 30. ₹ 100 and ₹ 200 tickets will give access to the VIP and VVIP galleries respectively. In a more positive note, the AIFF has conveyed to us that all the matches will be telecasted live", he concluded.