Indian footballing action returns after seven months of suspension due to the lockdown imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Garhwal FC, Bhowanipore FC, ARA FC, FC Bengaluru United and Mohammedan SC are all set to vie for the sole I-League spot in the 2020-21 season.
The five teams will play in a single-legged league behind closed doors in Kolkata from 8th October at the Salt Lake Stadium and the Kalyani Stadium in what will be the curtain-raiser to the 2020-21 football season.
The I-League 2nd Division was suspended in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the AIFF resorted to hosting a short league to decide the 11th team to join the I-League in the 2020-21 season.
We look at the five participating teams, their chances and their squads for the I-League qualifiers.
Provisional Squad: Sayak Barai, Pratik Lama, Neeraj Bhandari, Mahip Adhikari, Dahir Bala Al-Hassan, Nirmal Singh Bisht, Nitin Bhandari, Gaurav Raway, Rahul Aswal, Suman Sarkar, Uttam Rai, Rahul Baishnab Das, Ronald Singh Saikhom, Abhishek Calvin, Gagandeep Singh Ghattaura, Gursimrat Singh
Head Coach: Vikas Rawat
Verdict: Garhwal FC are largely an unknown unit. The Delhi-based Garhwal community club consists mostly of local players and could the surprise the other four teams in the qualifiers.
Led by the experienced Baichung Bhutia Football Schools (BBFS) management, Garhwal will be looking to spoil the party of the higher placed teams and grab a spot in the I-League.
Provisional Squad: Shilton Paul, Dibyendu Sarkar, Dhananjoy, Subham Sen, Kingshuk Debnath, Bikramjit Singh Jr, Monotosh Chakladar, Avinava Bag, Arijit Bagui, Anup Raj, Injamamul Haq, Manoranjan Singh, Samar Kumir, Debanya Chakraborty, Altamas Syed, Ayan Patra, Faizal Ali, Gopi Singh, Pankaj Moula, Subhankar Sarkar, Supriya, Philip Adjah, Jiten Murmu, Ansumana Kromah
Head Coach: Sankarlal Chakraborty
Verdict: Led by the experienced tactician Sankarlal Chakraborty, Bhowanipore will be eager to gain entry into the I-League. The central Kolkata based side is laden with well-known local players like Monotosh Chakladar, Pankaj Moula, Jiten Murmu, Kingshuk Debnath, Avinava Bag and Shilton Paul.
Ansumana Kromah, Philip Adjah and Altamas Syed will add some much-needed depth and experience to the squad as well.
Provisional Squad: Iprotip Das, Manoj Swamy Kannan, Surajit Seal, Shashi Kumar, Muhammed Sagar Ali, Karthik Govind Swamy, Sourav Sharma, Syed Shoaib Ahmed, Prabin Tigga, Alber Gonsalves, Sreekuttan VS, Jordan Cedric Fernandes, Calvin Rosario Baretto, Pratik Swami, Akshay Vimal Mall, Aditya Ashok Kumar Jha, Jenishsinh Rana, Subham Rajeskumar Chauhan
Head Coach: Vivek Nagul
Verdict: ARA FC are touted to be the giant-killers of the upcoming I-League qualifiers. The Ahmedabad-based side finished top of Group C in the preliminary round and are expected to pull off some more surprises in the qualifiers.
Young talented players like Calvin Baretto, Iprotip Das, Shoaib Ahmed, and Aditya Kumar will be a few names that scouts will be paying attention to.
FC Bengaluru United
Provisional Squad: Kunzang Bhutia, Daniel, Brandon Green, Asraf Ali Mondal, Ronaldo Augusto Antonio Oliveira, Atom Shitaljit Singh, Ridge De Mello, Mohammad Asrar Rehber, Ishan Dey, Arun Kumar, Naro Hari Shrestha, Srijith R, Nicholas Fernandes, Rana Gharami, Kiran Saravanan, Vignesh Gunashekhar, Akhil P, Azharuddin Mallick, Amey Ranawade, Jaison Jordan Vaz, Hardik Bhatt, Aditya Mohan, Shreyas Ketkar
Head Coach: Richard Hood
Verdict: FC Bengaluru United have bought some great Indian players. Players like Ronaldo Oliveira, Ride de Mello, Rana Gharami, and Azharuddin Mallick will be key performers for the team and will determine whether FC Bengaluru United can qualify for the I-League.
The team have the perfect blend of experience and youth, which might propel them into the I-League.
Provisional Squad: Md Jafar Mondal, Kingsley Eze, Arijeet Singh, Safiul Rahaman, Vanlalbia Chhangte, Himanshu Jangra, Balwinder Singh, Gani Ahmed Nigam, Sattyam Sharma, Hira Mondal, Priyant Kumar Singh, Sanjib Ghosh, Sujit Sadhu, Firoj Ali, Nabi Hussain Khan, Shamsad Ali, Moraj Ali Ata, Munmun Timothy Lugun, Biaklian Paite, Samuel Shadap, Suraj Rawat, Pritam Sarkar, Shubham Roy, Singam Subash Singh, SK Faiaz, Moinuddin, Willis Plaza
Head Coach: Yan Law
Verdict: Mohammedan SC have been a different outfit in the last few weeks since the arrival of new club officials, who have also managed to bring new investors to the club.
The Black Panthers have shown their financial strength and signed the likes of SK Faiaz, Samuel Shadap, Himanshu Jangra, Willis Plaza and Eze Kingsley. The team boasts a few in-form names with top-flight experience. They are expected to go all the way and qualify for the I-League.
I-League qualifiers fixtures
12.30 PM IST, 8th October - Bhowanipore FC vs FC Bengaluru United
04.30 PM IST, 8th October - Mohammedan SC vs Garhwal FC
12.30 PM IST, 11th October - Mohammedan SC vs ARA FC
04.30 PM IST, 11th October - Garhwal FC vs FC Bengaluru United
12.30 PM IST, 14th October - Garhwal FC vs Bhowanipore FC
04.30 PM IST, 14th October - FC Bengaluru United vs ARA FC
12.30 PM IST, 16th October - ARA FC vs Garhwal FC
04.30 PM IST, 16th October - Bhowanipore FC vs Mohammedan SC
02.00 PM IST, 19th October - FC Bengaluru United vs Mohammedan SC
02.00 PM IST, 19th October - ARA FC vs Bhowanipore FC
I-League qualifiers telecast
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) announced a tender for the production rights of all 10 games of the qualifiers. The games are expected to be streamed live 1Sports' Facebook page and broadcasted on the 1Sports television channel.
I-League qualifiers predictions
Mohammedan SC and FC Bengaluru United are two favourites to qualify for the 2020-21 I-League season. However, as the games come thick and fast, with each team playing 4 games in the space of 10 days, the teams with maximum match fitness and agility will most likely prevail in the qualifiers.
ARA FC and Bhowanipore FC are the dark horses in the qualifiers and Garhwal FC could surprise everyone and qualify for the I-League.