Jamshedpur: All eyes would be on the big spending clubs as the football season gets underway with the 34th edition of the Federation Cup here on Wednesday.
I-League champions Dempo take on AIFF developmental side Pailan Arrows in the inaugural match at JRD Tata Complex here, while in another simultaneous match at 3pm, Mumbai FC face Shillong Lajong at Keenan Stadium, the second venue in the city.
Twelve teams divided into four groups, including defending champions Salgaocar, will vie for top honours in the premier league-cum-knockout club tournament which is being held in Jamshedpur and Siliguri.
Group A and D matches will be held in Jamshedpur while Group B and C games will be played in Siliguri which will also host the semifinals (September 26 and 27) and summit clash (September 30).
The Group A and D matches is being held here at the backdrop of an embarrassing situation over the venue.
The AIFF had earlier allotted Ranchi as one of the two hosts alongside Siliguri without an inspection being conducted. A report after an inspection being done by one of the senior vice-presidents stated that the Morabadi Stadium in Ranchi was in a perfect condition to host the matches.
Later on, after another senior vice-president made a visit to Ranchi, it was learnt that the Morabadi Stadium ground was uneven while the Mega City Sports Complex at the same city had two cricket pitches at the centre of the field.
Thereafter, it was decided that JRD Tata Sports Complex at Jamshedpur would host all the Group A and D matches. But the clubs objected to this as this would lead to one of the two matches played at the venue to kick off at lunch time.
The issue was finally resolved after the AIFF got the permission to use Keenan Stadium, which is primarily a cricket ground.
A lot will be at stake for the Big Three of Kolkata -- record 18 time champions Mohun Bagan, seven-time winners East Bengal and United SC while Goan sides Dempo and Churchill are also strong contenders.
The tournament, which will be a curtain raiser for the I-League, has the added significance that the winners will play in the AFC Cup.
Kolkata`s United SC has been among the big spenders this season as they had ropped in last season I-League top scorer Ranty Martins. The Nigerian will partner former Costa Riccan World Cupper Carlos Hernandez up front.
The frenzied Mohun Bagan fans will also expect Australian Tolgay Ozbey to hit form with Okolie Odafa. With Mohun Bagan clubbed with Goan giants Churchill Brothers and city rivals Mohammedan Sporting in Group B, an interesting battle will be on the cards for the last-four slot.
East Bengal, on the other hand, look to have it easy against weaker teams in Sporting Clube de Goa, ONGC and qualifiers Kalighant Milan Sangha in their group.
With coach Trevor Morgan at helm for third successive season and the crux of the team being the same, their team coordination will be the key as they would look to do one better after their last year`s final loss to Salgaocar.
Dempo would be the overwhelming favourites from Group A.
Group D, on the other hand, will be the most competitive one with star-studded United SC pitted against last year`s winners Salgaocar, a spirited Pune FC and Bhaichung Bhutia-owned United Sikkim FC.
Kolkata clubs Mohammedan Sporting and Kalighat MS are the two qualifiers of the Federation Cup.
• Group A: Dempo SC, Mumbai FC, Pailan Arrows and Shillong FC.
• Group B: Churchill Brothers, Air India, Mohun Bagan, Mohammadan Sporting.
• Group C: Sporting Clube de Goa, ONGC, East Bengal, Kalighat Milan Samity.
• GROUP D: Salgaocar FC, Pune FC, United SC, United Sikkim FC.