A year of great resilience, let’s revisit some special 2020 Hero ISL moments

2020 comes to an end on Thursday and it’s been quite a year for the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL). As the Covid-19 pandemic brought the world to a standstill and forced the players and fans to stay at home for months on end, the Hero ISL showed the way in India and went ahead with the 2020-21 edition, abiding by the ‘safety first’ rule for all parties concerned and deciding to host it behind closed doors in Goa across three venues. As ATK Mohun Bagan and Kerala Blasters FC took the field in the season opener on November 20, Hero ISL 2020-21 became the first major sporting event to be held in India since the pandemic turned our world upside down. The year 2020 has been significant for the Hero ISL on several other counts too, and without further ado let’s take a look at some of the highlights that left a big impression on us in the year gone by.        

Two new teams and the first-ever Kolkata derby in Hero ISL

Ahead of the 2020-21 season, the Hero ISL organisers announced the expansion of the league with the inclusion of two new teams – ATK Mohun Bagan and SC East Bengal. Both the Kolkata teams took on each other on November 27 in what was the first Kolkata derby in the history of the league. Even though ATK Mohun Bagan won the encounter 2-0 and claimed the inaugural derby between the age-old rivals, the game was fast-paced and the quality of football was just another level.    

Three AFC spots availed by Hero ISL clubs as FC Goa make history

FC Goa, ATK Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC took the three continental slots allotted by Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for the 2021 season. By virtue of finishing as league-leaders in Hero ISL 2019-20, FC Goa qualified for the AFC Champions League, becoming the first Indian club to secure direct entry into Asia’s top club competition. The AFC Cup slot -- up for grabs for the Hero I-League winner -- eventually went to ATK Mohun Bagan following the merger of 2019-20 Hero I-League winner Mohun Bagan AC and 2019-20 Hero ISL champions ATK FC. After their merger, the AFC Cup play-off slot was given to third-placed Bengaluru FC. Inaugural league shield winners, FC Goa registered 12 wins, three draws and three losses to finish the 2019-20 league stage on top with 39 points in 18 games. ATK FC (34 points), Bengaluru FC (30 points) and Chennaiyin FC (29 points) followed the Gaurs on the points table and claimed the next three places.

Hero ISL inducted into World Leagues Forum

Earlier this year in July, Hero ISL received a major boost and became the first league from South Asia and seventh in Asia to join the prestigious World Leagues Forum (WLF), the association of professional football leagues, which includes the likes of the Premier League, La Liga and Bundesliga, amongst others. WLF works closely with the FIFA – the global body – and provides bespoke support to national football bodies and helps them improve standards and structures in professional football.   

Hero ISL reaches 500-match milestone

Match 32 of the 2020-21 Hero ISL between NorthEast United FC and Jamshedpur FC saw a major milestone come to pass. It was the 500th game in the history of the Hero ISL. Aniket Jadhav made the occasion memorable for himself and Jamshedpur by scoring his first goal of the season and helping his team to a 1-0 win. After a strong start to the season, this was the Highlanders’ first defeat.

ATK FC become first team to win three Hero ISL trophies

ATK FC and Chennaiyin FC went into the 2019-20 final on March 14 with two trophies each. And Antonio Lopez Habas’ side came out triumphant as they despatched the Marina Machans 3-1 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda thanks to a brace from Javier Hernandez and a goal from Edu Garcia. Nerijus Valskis scored the only goal for Chennaiyin. With the triumph, ATK FC became the first team in the history of the Hero ISL to win three trophies, following up on their success in 2014 and 2016.

Chennaiyin FC make the impossible possible

After just 9 points from their first 10 games, two-time champions Chennaiyin FC had almost no hope of making the semis. However, the Marina Machans, from a possible 24 points in their next eight games of the league stage, picked up a whopping 20 with six wins and two draws to finish fourth. Under new head coach Owen Coyle who joined the team after their first six matches, Chennaiyin went on to play the final whey they lost to ATK FC. Theirs was indeed a great story of beating the odds.

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