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Dempo meet SBT in Federation Cup opener

December 03, 2008 18:57 IST

Over the next fortnight the country's top 16 teams, which includes 12 second division I-League clubs, will vie for honours in the Federation Cup, in Kolkata and Barasat.

With the erstwhile knock-out format giving way to a single-leg league format, it will be interesting to see how the 12 top clubs cope with fatigue and expectation after going through 11 gruelling rounds in the I-League.

They will be up against State Bank of Travancore, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, New Delhi Heroes and Oil India (Assam) -- four teams who have made the cut after going through two qualifying rounds, introduced this season.

In Thursday's opening encounter, I-League holders Dempo will take on minnows SBT and the second match of the day will see United Sports Club locking horns with Mumbai FC.

Dempo have a bit of a problem as Ranty Martins looks doubtful for the opener, having pulled a hamstring, and key players Mboyo Iwomi, Samir Naik and Nicolau Borges did not travel with the club. However, their coach, Armando Colaco, is still oozing confidence.

"Though our focus is on the I-League, we are giving equal stress to the Federation Cup. We want to win this title also," said Colaco.

The ignominy of three successive defeats in the I-League could be weighing heavy on holders East Bengal, who won the Federation Cup after 11 years, beating Mahindra United 2-1 in the final in Ludhiana.

The reigning champions have picked Suley Musah and Yusif Yakubu as the two foreigners in the 30th edition of the tournament, since only two imports are allowed this time as per AIFF instruction.

That leaves out East Bengal's new Ghanaian recruit Ishmael Addo, who replaced ailing Edmilson Marques in the I-League.

East Bengal's preliminary list of 25 players also includes Surkumar Singh and Dharamjit Singh.

Known for staging comebacks, East Bengal are plagued with injury woes this season. If Brazilian import Edmilson is ruled out due to a bout of Hepatitis B, injuries also plague M Suresh and Alivto D'Cunha, to name a few.

However, all eyes would be on 12-time Federation Cup champions Mohun Bagan, who have been the show-stealers of late in the ongoing I-League, winning six games on a row to sit pretty in second place after the end of the first phase.

The last time the Federation Cup was held in Kolkata, in 2006, the Green and Maroons brigade won the title.

Much will depend on Baichung Bhutia and Brazilian ace Jose Barreto, the driving force behind Mohun Bagan's resurgence in the league.

Barreto may have lost much of his pace but his ability to deliver near-perfect crosses and his predatory skills still make him a dangerous customer for opposition defenders.

Another team to watch out for is I-League leaders Sporting de Clube Goa, who have been a picture of consistency in an otherwise topsy-turvy league this season.

Two defeats in 11 matches speak highly of the Vishwas Goankar-managed side's effort. All eyes will be on Nigerian duo Junior and Amos, who have been credited for the Goan side's amazing run in this I-League.

That the Goans are grouped with East Bengal makes it a difficult task for Stanley Rozario. The same group also features JCT and the defending champions will have to come up with something special to even reach the semi-finals, since only one team from each group progresses to the last-four stage.

Mohun Bagan coach Karim Bencherifa should fancy his chances, having been pooled with comparatively easier opponents in Group D alongside Vasco, Air India and Oil India.

In a bid to make the country's domestic football structure more broad-based, the AIFF this season introduced qualifying rounds in the tournament in line with England's FA Cup.

The new format, while giving chance to new teams to take part in the tournament, also provids equal representation from each zone.

Group A: Dempo, United Sports Club, Mumbai FC, State Bank of Travancore.

Group B: Mahindra United, Churchill Brothers, Mohammedan Sporting Club, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

Group C: East Bengal, JCT, Sporting Clube de Goa, New Delhi Heroes.

Group D: Mohun Bagan, Vasco, Air India, Oil India (Assam).

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