The Federation Cup starts in another four days with 16 clubs competing in two venues (Kochi and Manjeri) of Kerala. Just like the last five editions, there are four groups of four teams each with the group winner progressing to the semi-finals. Sportskeeda continues the build-up by analysing Group A.
Teams: Churchill Brothers, United SC, Pune FC, Eagles FC
Fixtures (All matches at Kochi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium)
January 14: Churchill Brothers vs United SC; Pune FC vs Eagles FC
January 17: United SC vs Pune FC; Eagles FC vs Churchill Brothers
January 20: United SC vs Eagles FC; Churchill Brothers vs Pune FC
The I-League holders have had a horrendous season so far but would hope for a change in their fortunes in 2014 starting with the Federation Cup, a competition which they have never won. The Red Machines have used eight different foreigners already in the I-League and 2006 Trinidad & Tobago World Cupper Anthony Wolfe is their latest recruit with Syrian striker Yaseer Shahen being released. Syrian defender Naser Al Sebai has also been released and as per rules, Costa Rican international Cristian Lagos will not be eligible for the Federation Cup so they will have to play with only two foreigners. Technical director Subhas Bhowmick will be demanding a good showing from his players to regain confidence ahead of the second half of the season.
Key player: Balwant Singh – A former Federation Cup winner with Salgaocar in 2011, the 27-year-old has been Churchill’s best player in the I-League with six goals to his name but must show that same consistency in this tournament to earn a call-up to the India team especially considering that Wim Koevermans will be attending the matches in Kochi.
The club’s financial problems has taken its toll on both the players and coach Eelco Schattorie, who could leave after the tournament if things don’t improve off the pitch, as the purple shirts went into I-League break with a six-match winless run. The form of star striker Ranti Martins has also been a concern but Schattorie has been mainly frustrated by the club’s inability of strengthening the squad. The latest setback was the failure to sign Tolgay Ozbey, who joined Dempo despite reportedly giving his word to United SC’s Dutch coach. On paper though, the Kolkata club are still strong enough to beat any team so none of their group opponents would be looking forward to facing them.
Key player: Ranti Martins – The Nigerian has been uncharacteristically poor in front of goal this season with just four goals in 15 I-League appearances and has failed to score in his last seven games. Ranti, who won the Federation Cup with Dempo in 2004, would be determined to show that his class is permanent.
The Red Lizards are very much in the title race but performances deteriorated in December with their defence in particular having a tough time. So the I-League break possibly came at the right time and now Mike Snoei would be hoping for a positive response from his players in Kerala. The absence of a genuine centre forward looks to be Pune’s biggest drawback but ex-Bolton player Mustapha Riga would be looking to compensate with his class and experience. Pune also have the Asian Champions League qualifying playoffs to look forward to in February but Snoei would first be aiming to end the club’s wait of featuring in the Federation Cup last four for the first time ever.
Key player: Douhou Pierre – The Ivorian has undoubtedly been one of the most consistent midfielders in the I-League and is certainly Pune’s most dangerous creative force. Opposition teams will be looking to give special attention to Douhou and thus the former Mahindra man must be at his very best for Pune to do well.
The Kerala club replaced Shillong’s Langsning in the tournament and will be relishing the home advantage. But coach Stanely Rozario faces a monumental task as his side lacks both experience and quality despite loaning 13 players from IMG-Reliance. The priority for Rozario will certainly be the I-League second division so the three group matches will be used for giving exposure to his young squad. However the former East Bengal, Shillong Lajong and Mohun Bagan coach would still be well aware that Eagles must put up a fight on home soil in order to build an instant connection with the locals and that would also improve their self-belief ahead of the second division.
Key player: Koko Sakibo – Due to the inexperience and a lack of goal threat in the rest of the squad, a lot will be expected from this former Dempo striker. The Nigerian has the potential to cause problems to any I-League defence but wasn’t consistent enough for the Goan club previously and thus has the chance to rebuild his reputation.
What to expect
Due to their current position in the I-League, Pune FC are the favourites to progress but it will be a big test of their character as the squad doesn’t have the experience of winning trophies. Churchill Brothers and United SC would be looking to put the I-League difficulties behind them and make a good start. The two face off on matchday one and a win for either would certainly put the pressure on Pune’s young squad. Eagles are the big underdogs and unlikely to go through but they will certainly have a say in deciding the group winner. Any one out of the three I-League clubs should reach the last four and perhaps Pune’s superior foreign quality will be decisive.Published 10 Jan 2014, 18:45 IST