A league of its own - I-League set to begin with renewed hope
There is renewed hope amongst the teams with a new broadcaster (D-sport) and favourable match timings coming their way as part of an agreement that saw the league become second division.
Not a lot of football leagues across the world can boast about a second division with a better fan base and history. India certainly can. The Hero I-League, set to kick-off on Saturday, features teams such as a Mohun Bagan and East Bengal who have been existence for more than a century.
Unfortunately, the advent of the Indian Super League and the subsequent push by decision-makers of Indian football to make it Indian's top-tier competition, has resulted in the I-League dropping down to secondary status. But there is renewed hope amongst the teams with a new broadcaster (D-sport) and favourable match timings coming their way as part of an agreement that saw the league become second division.
The I-League will kickoff with a double-header featuring a clash between former champions Mohun Bagan and Aizawl FC, followed by Gokulam Kerala FC's match against Neroca FC in the same evening at home.
A total of 110 games are on schedule to be played across five months. The Hero I-League, this season, will feature 11 teams representing eight states and one union territory of India, vying for the coveted trophy and a chance to represent the country in the AFC Cup.
Speaking ahead of the opening match-day, Sunando Dhar, CEO, I-League said: “What makes the Hero I-League special I believe is its competitiveness and unpredictability. You cannot earmark a team and be absolutely sure that they are going to win. That unpredictability is rare in football these days, which makes me proud of our league. It’s almost time and I could not be more excited. I would like to thank the AIFF leadership, our sponsors Hero, our marketing partners FSDL as well as our production and broadcast partners Instat and Dsport for making the 13th edition better than ever before. I wish all the clubs all the very best and may the best club win.”
The Hero I-League has had a total of eight winners since its inception back in the 2007-8 season. Five different clubs have won it in the past five years, making for memorable fairytales.
Dempo Sports Club of Goa have the maximum three titles followed by Churchill Brothers and Bengaluru FC with two each. Churchill are among five clubs in the present edition who have won the Hero I-League.
In a year of many firsts, the 13th Hero I-League will feature two, instead of one high voltage local derby. Besides the Kolkata derby featuring a clash between the legendary Mohun Bagan and Quess East Bengal, the Imphal derby will also be played out for the very first time on the national stage, when newly promoted TRAU FC takes on Neroca FC at Manipur’s capital Imphal.
This year will also see new production and live broadcast partners for the Hero I-League with Instat being responsible for production and premium sports channel Dsport, broadcasting the league live.
Also to the fore will be many young and exciting players particularly in the forward line that would be looking to make their mark in this edition of the Hero I-League and catch the eye of the national coach Igor Stimac amongst the likes of Vikram Pratap Singh, Nongdamba Naorem, Abhijit Sarkar, Vinil Poojary and Techi Tatra.
The 13th edition of the Hero I-League will also feature around 40 foreign nationals from such strong footballing nations such as Brazil, Spain, England, Japan, Nigeria, Scotland, Cameroon, Gambia, Uganda, Liberia, Trinidad, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Togo, Mali and others for a total of close to 21 countries, besides India.