Durand Cup 2021 preview: Defending champion Gokulam Kerala FC leads charge

Durand Cup will, however, lose a lot of local interest with SC East Bengal and and ATK Mohun Bagan both absent.

Celebrated as the third oldest professional club tournament in the world, Durand Cup has found a new home in Kolkata for the next five years. (Representative Image)   -  Getty Images

Defending champion Gokulam Kerala FC will be leading the charge in the 130th edition of the Durand Cup football, which gets underway here at the Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday.

Local outfit Mohammedan Sporting will taking on the Indian Air Force side in the opening fixture.

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The initial group league stage will feature a total of 16 teams divided into four groups.

With the tournament coming just ahead of the Indian Super League pre-season, a total of five ISL sides will be seen in action.

This apart, there will be three I-League clubs, two Second Division clubs and six teams from defence and paramilitary services.

The knock-out stage starts with the quarterfinals on September 23 while the semifinals are scheduled on September 27 and 28. The final comes up on October 3.

Celebrated as the third oldest professional club tournament in the world, Durand Cup, the 133-year-old tournament has found a new home in Kolkata for the next five years after the West Bengal Government decided to extend its patronage.

The most impressive among the participants is definitely FC Goa, which has committed four foreigners with Spain's Edu Bedia leading the way.

The rest of the ISL teams like Hyderabad FC, Jamshedpur FC, Kerala Blasters and Bengaluru FC will have a mix of age-group and first team players.

The current I-League champion Gokulam Kerala FC, which won the maiden Durand Cup in the previous edition in 2019, has announced a squad that is a mix of young recruits from the hinterland in north Kerala and three foreign signings under Italian head coach Vincenzo Alberto Annese. 

Sudeva Delhi FC and Mohammedan Sporting are the other two I-League teams in the fray.

Delhi Football Club and FC Bengaluru United  are the two Second Divisions clubs while Army Red and Green, Indian Air Force, Indian Navy, CRPF and Assam Rifles are the six defence and paramilitary sides.

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With the two city giants, ATK Mohun Bagan and SC East Bengal, remaining absent the tournament will be losing a lot of the local interest.

While  ATK MB is busy with AFC Cup preparations, East Bengal club remained embroiled in a tussle with its investor when the fixtures were being finalised. 

The tournament organiser, Indian Army, also informed of a possibility of allowing 50 percent spectators in the stadium from the knock-out stage.

The final decision will be taken on the existing government guidelines during that stage. 

Preliminary Group Stage:

Group A – Indian Air Force, Mohammedan Sporting SC, CRPF, FC Bengaluru United.

Group B – Jamshedpur FC, Sudeva Delhi FC, FC Goa, Army Green.

Group C – Delhi FC, Indian Navy, Bengaluru FC, Kerala Blasters FC.

Group D – Assam Rifles, Army Red, Hyderabad FC, Gokulam Kerala FC.

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