Durand Cup 2022: Hero ISL teams eye first silverware of longer Indian football season

FC Goa celebrating their 2021 Durand Cup win

 

In a first, all eleven Hero Indian Super League (ISL) teams will participate in the Durand Cup, the oldest football tournament in Asia as they vie for the first silverware of a longer Indian football season in the tournament’s 131st edition.

The Durand Cup also includes five teams from Hero I-League and four from the Indian armed forces. The tournament offers the Hero ISL and I-League teams an opportunity to play competitive matches before the start of their respective league campaigns. The historic tournament will also present an opportunity for all teams to win a trophy and develop winning momentum before the start of the league fixtures. The increased number of games is something that has long been advocated by experts and former players for the development and growth of Indian footballers.

“It’s perfect having more games in India. It has been a long time coming, regardless of if it’s cup competitions, pre-season tournaments or post-season tournaments. It doesn’t matter. As long as you can increase the number of games from 20 to 30. You need at least 30 competitive games and the calendar also has to be increased in terms of the number of months,” former Bengaluru FC midfielder Erik Paartalu said about the longer football season.

“It’s no good going from October to March and trying to put 30 games in that window. The players will get injured. So to extend it from August to May and align a lot of the other competitions is great news,” he added.

Ishfaq Ahmed who is the assistant head coach of Kerala Blasters FC echoed Parrtalu’s thoughts.

“A longer season is always ideal for players and clubs because you have a proper off-season break. You don't have an off-season for five or six months because then you get out of shape and it's not easy for professional players to stay out of their profession for six months. So, with a longer season, the off-season break becomes smaller,” Ahmed said.

“So the decision of having a longer season and having more tournaments will only benefit players in terms of fitness and maturity. Ultimately, it's football matches that can help you to progress more quickly than off-seasons,” he added.

More competitive matches across a longer season will also aid India’s preparation for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup campaign.  

“I feel the Indian team needs competitive games so that when they get to the qualifiers they can actually compete. They are competing against teams and countries that are in-season and players who are playing 30-40 games a season so it's no good for these guys to play 20 games a season and then be in camp for three months together and not play competitive football,” Paartalu said.

“So, the longer the calendar is, the more hardened the players will be. And when they get to the big stage, it's going to feel like second nature to them. They will have that confidence in their legs, that confidence in their football ability and just that confidence in the match. So, for me, it's a step forward in the right direction,” he added.

The Durand Cup will be played across five venues across three states: West Bengal, Assam and Manipur. The 20 teams are split into four groups of five with six teams enjoying home advantage in the group stage.

FC Goa who won the competition last season will look to defend their title and start the Carlos Pena era on a winning note. They won’t have an easy ride with Bengaluru FC and Jamshedpur FC competing with them in the same group.

History

The first edition of this prestigious tournament was held in 1888 in Shimla as an Army Cup open only to the British Indian Army troops in India but soon it opened up to civilian teams. After independence, the armed forces continue to be a part of this competition which will stage its 131st edition this year.

Hero ISL teams have been a part of the Durand Cup since the 2019 edition with FC Goa becoming the first team from the Hero ISL to win the Durand Cup in 2021.

The 2022 edition will see the participation of all Hero ISL teams for the first time.

Format, Groups and Fixtures

The teams are divided into four groups of five teams with the top two teams from each group qualifying for the quarter-finals. Group A and B matches will be held in Kolkata with Group C proceeding in Manipur and Group D in Guwahati.

In Group A, FC Goa, Bengaluru FC and Jamshedpur FC will fight for the two quarter-final spots along with Indian Air Force and Mohammedan SC.

Group D will also see three Hero ISL teams in competition to make it to the next stage as Kerala Blasters FC, Odisha FC and NorthEast United FC pooled together along with Army Green and Sudeva Delhi FC. Chennaiyin FC and Hyderabad FC are in group C along with Army Red and the two Imphal-based teams TRAU FC and NEROCA FC.

Group B sees Mumbai City FC compete with the two Kolkata giants – Mariners and the red and gold brigade in Kolkata along with Indian Navy and Rajasthan United FC.

After a long group phase that will give every club a chance to play a minimum of four matches, the tournament will proceed to the knockout rounds at the quarter-final stage.

The dates and venues of the knockout stage are yet to be finalised.

The Durand Cup which is one of the oldest tournaments in the world will thus kickstart the new longer Indian football season with some exciting action to get the fans geared up for the upcoming Hero ISL campaign.

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