The reigning Indian Super League champion Mohun Bagan Super Giant will be open the oldest club football tournament of the continent when it takes on the Bangladesh Army in the 132nd edition of Durand Cup at the Salt Lake Stadium on Thursday.
The 135-year-old defence services-organised tournament has reclaimed its glory after being reinstated as the season opener of the Indian football calendar.
Twenty-four teams, including two foreign teams, will be playing the initial group league stage which will be played across four venues in West Bengal and Assam.
Kolkata will be hosting groups A, B and C, while majority of the group D and E matches will be hosted by Guwahati’s Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium.
Kokrajhar, added as the host city this season, will be hosting all matches of group F along with a group D and E game each.
Guwahati and Kokrajhar will also host one quarter-final game while the rest of the knockout fixtures will be held in Kolkata. The semifinals and the final will be held in Kolkata with the title clash scheduled on September 3.
The list of participants is impressive with all the ISL teams and a selection of the I-League teams, including the champion Roundglass, Punjab FC, Gokulam Kerala joining four Services teams and two foreign invitees - the Bangladesh and Nepal Army sides. Not all the ISL outfits are expected to field their full-strength roster as they look to test their domestic recruits to prepare for a long season ahead.
The first match of group A will revive the cross-border rivalry seeing Mohun Bagan, taking on the Bangladesh Army outfit. The visiting side has a team spun out of a selection of players primarily from the Dhaka Mohammedan Sporting Club, which won the local Federation Cup last season.
Mohun Bagan will be starting off with an assortment of names picked up from the senior and the youth teams. The senior team, which began pre-season training under its Spanish head coach Juan Ferrando, will be contributing less to the list initially as the side looks to preserve the best for the opening AFC Cup preliminary round match on August 16.
Given the situation, the youth team coach Bastab Roy will shepherd the side in the early stages of the tournament. With traditional rival East Bengal and Roundglass Punjab FC completing the group A line-up, the competition is expected to be of the highest order. The higlight match of the group will definitely be the season’s first Kolkata derby, which is scheduled on August 12.
The first match will be preceded by a brief opening ceremony where the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, will be the chief guest.
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