Federation Cup: Aizawl FC looks to ride on momentum

Aizawl FC has already made headlines by claiming the I-League title, and would be looking to continue in the same vein in the upcoming Federation Cup.

Aizawl FC will take on Chennai City FC in its first fixture.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

Aizawl FC has already made international headlines by claiming the I-League title and threatening hunger strike in the scenario of getting relegated in the proposed new National league next year. If it wins the Federation Cup, starting at the Barabati Stadium here on Sunday, the newly-crowned National champion will add strength to its voice.

Now, Aizawl, which faces Chennai City FC in its first match on Sunday, will have to prove its worth in a shorter and tighter format. Aizawl, which banked on its undefeated streak in the high altitudes of its home conditions to clinch the National title, will have to adapt to hot and humid conditions here.

However, it will not be easy for Aizawl to snatch the Federation Cup, featuring the top eight sides of the I-League.

For defending champion Mohun Bagan, which finished second for a second successive time in the I-League, it is an opportunity to redeem some pride. Its coach Sanjoy Sen must be under pressure after the Mariners, who had blanked Aizawl 5-0 to bag the Federation Cup last year, missed out on the I-League title by a solitary point. He will try to save his reputation by helping Bagan, studded with goalkeeper and defender of the year Debjit Majumder and Anas Edathodika respectively and the charismatic Sony Norde upfront, become the Federation Cup champion for a second consecutive time.

After being humiliated by some smaller teams and experiencing fans' wrath, East Bengal has witnessed a lot of upheaval, including the resignation of its British coach Trevor Morgan. It will make an effort to regain some self-respect and win back the confidence of its supporters.

The release of Australian forward Chris Payne and injury to Haitian playmaker Wedson Anselme has compounded problems for East Bengal, which lost its I-League matches to other rivals in the group.

Nevertheless, East Bengal, which meets Churchill Brothers in the opener, would take heart from the fact that it had won the title when the tournament had been played here seven years ago.

Last year's I-League champion Bengaluru FC, which was also an AFC Cup finalist, is equally keen to win the tournament and assure itself a slot in the continental event again. This will not only silence its critics, but also save the club blushes.

Bengaluru, led by the inspirational striker Sunil Chhetri, who is also the player of the year, is training hard for the Federation Cup and should give a tough challenge to other teams.

Shillong Lajong FC, which had given some fine performances to finish fifth in the National league, has to get used to the weather fast to rise to the expectation. Churchill, which gave a few good results under coach Derek Pereira, DSK Shivajinas, which enjoys the availability of seasoned goalkeeper Subrata Paul, and Chennai will try to make an impact as well.

Group A: Aizawl FC, East Bengal, Churchill Brothers, Chennai City FC

Group B: Mohun Bagan, DSK Shivajians, Bengaluru FC, Shillong Lajong FC

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