The Durand Cup is back and the 133-year-old tournament kicks off on the 5th of September with a clash between the Indian Air Force team and Mohammedan Sporting at the Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan.
Indian football's oldest tournament consists of four groups of four teams each, and two teams from each group qualifying for the quarterfinals of the Durand Cup.
Five Indian Super League sides, three I-League teams and two clubs playing in the I-League qualifiers will join six regimental and institutional teams from the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force.
Who are the teams in Group A?
Group A is sure to garner local interest with I-League side Mohammedan strong contenders to progress from the group. The Black Panthers will want to add to the two titles they have in this competition. Mohammedan were also the first Indian team to win the Durand Cup in 1940.
Joining the Kolkata-based I-League side will be FC Bengaluru United, a team aiming to be promoted to the I-League via the 2021-22 qualifiers to be held in Bengaluru in October.
The two remaining teams in this group are the teams from the Central Reserve Police Force and the Indian Air Force. The IAF team will come into the Durand Cup in strong form, having beaten Delhi FC in the final of the Delhi Senior Division League.
Durand Cup 2021 Group A Schedule
05.09.2021: Indian Air Force vs Mohammedan Sporting - 4.15 pm, Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan
06.09.2021: CRPF vs FC Bengaluru United - 3.00 pm, Kalyani Municipality Stadium
09.09.2021: Indian Air Force vs FC Bengaluru United - 3.00 pm, Kalyani Municipality Stadium
10.09.2021: CRPF vs Mohammedan Sporting - 3.00 pm, Kalyani Municipality Stadium
14.09.2021: Mohammedan Sporting vs FC Bengaluru United - 3.00 pm, Kalyani Municipality Stadium
14.09.2021: CRPF vs Indian Air Force - 3.00 pm, Mohun Bagan Club Ground
Mohammedan have shown strong pre-season form and look likely to mount a challenge for the I-League title this season. They arrive at the Durand Cup, having won both their Calcutta Football League matches this season.
The strike force of Marcus Joseph and Stefan Ilic is one to look out for, as is Phrangki Buam, the attacking midfielder on loan from FC Goa. Another team with a foreign strike force at the Durand Cup will be FCBU, who have Pedro Manzi and Luka Majcen in their ranks.
Bengaluru United are the champions of the BDFA Super Division and will be helmed by the astute Richard Hood, known for his patient possession style. A connoisseur of Indian football, Hood will be all too aware of the history and legacy of the Durand Cup.
The IAF are no pushovers and have won consecutive Delhi senior Division titles. They will look to make their mark on a tournament which has seen several victories by institutional teams. The order of the teams at the end of the group stage is likely to be:
1. Mohammedan Sporting
2. FC Bengaluru United
3. Indian Air Force
Mohammedan Sporting and FC Bengaluru United are likely to qualify from Group A of the Durand Cup.