The Durand Cup is the world’s third oldest professional tournament, whose 130th edition will be held across three venues in Kolkata from September 5. Most football clubs around the world were busy thrashing out deals for new players on the last day of the transfer window. At the same time, a handful of Indian teams - 16 to be exact - were gearing up for this annual spectacle.
After last year’s edition was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the age-old Durand Cup is back in India’s football capital. It will be hosted by the country’s armed forces along with the West Bengal government. The participating teams come from varying backgrounds, ranging from the Indian Super League, the I-League, I-League II and some from the forces as well.
Durand Cup is India’s original FA Cup
Over the years, before and after independence, India has had numerous knockout cup tournaments. These include the Federation Cup (now the AIFF Super Cup), the IFA Shield, the Santosh Trophy and of course, the Durand Cup.
Since the establishment of the National Football League in 1996, and subsequently the I-League and the ISL later, cup competitions have lost their sheen. This is due to clubs fielding reserve teams due to league commitments or other reasons.
This year’s edition sees five ISL teams (Bengaluru FC, FC Goa, Kerala Blasters, Jamshedpur FC and Hyderabad FC) taking part. Three I-League teams (Gokulam Kerala, Mohammedan Sporting and Sudeva FC) join them to make up the fray. Top-flight teams are likely to use a second-string squad but their presence should be enough to contribute to the spectacle.
Cup competitions are loved for their unpredictability and upsets. This particular Durand Cup, with a mix of teams involved, is likely to add some much-needed excitement to the Indian footballing calendar.
#3 A Chance for Fringe players
With the upcoming international break, the ISL teams participating in the Durand Cup are expected to field second-string squads. That does, however, give fringe players a chance to make a claim for a starting berth in the upcoming ISL season.
Reserve or ‘B’ teams of ISL clubs have tended to play in the I-League second division. However, even with that, their competitive game time has been limited. An impressive showing in this competition might go a long way in playing their way into the first-team squad.
#2 Dark Horses or Favorites?
Defending champion Gokulam Kerala blitzed their way to the Durand Cup title in 2019, comfortably outscoring most of their opponents en route to glory. They return to defend their crown having also captured the I-League title a few months ago. According to their coach Vincenzo Alberto Annesse, the Malabarians are ready “to win this trophy again”.
Two I-League II sides, FC Bengaluru United and Delhi FC, have roped in some eye-catching foreign players. Judging by their squad, they look ready to give it a right old go for the Durand Cup trophy itself. FCBU have signed Slovenian forward Luka Majcen and Uruguayan Pedro Manzi, whose goals propelled Chennai City FC to the I-League title in 2018-19.
Delhi FC have roped in experienced Trinidadian forward Willis Plaza who has had successful stints at East Bengal and Churchill Brothers.
#1 Indian players to watch
All eyes will be on young Delhi FC centre-back Anwar Ali as he returns to competitive action on the national stage. The AIFF has allowed him to resume his career provided he produces an affidavit taking full responsibility.
The 21-year-old’s heart condition has been well documented in the last couple of years but he is now raring to go. His recent performances include a hat-trick in Delhi FC’s recently concluded I-League II qualifying campaign.
FC Goa midfielder Phrangki Buam is another youngster hoping to make a mark in the Durand Cup after completing a loan move to Mohammedan Sporting. He is yet to play for the Gaurs in the ISL and has only made a brief cameo in their AFC Champions League campaign a few months ago. This seems like a good opportunity for the 20-year-old to get a few minutes under his belt during the Durand Cup.