There is a huge incentive for the second-division clubs to win the competition this year.

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) have announced that the roadmap of Indian football agreed to in 2019 between the stakeholders will be honoured. According to the said roadmap, the winners of the I-League 2022-23 will earn a promotion to the Indian Super League (ISL), which is the top tier of the Indian football league system.

This makes the upcoming 2022-23 season of the I-League very promising to say the least. Champions in the second-tier league will now have an opportunity to earn a promotion to the ISL by virtue of winning the competition. This will be historic and a memorable outcome in the context of club football in India.

There are several teams that will be making a claim for the top spot in the I-League to take the vertical leap into the ISL. It is a golden opportunity for them to play in the top tier of Indian club football without having to pay the humongous franchise fee. Here is a look at three clubs from the I-League that are favourites to earn this qualification:

Gokulam Kerala FC

Gokulam Kerala FC I-League
The Malabarians are two-time defending I-League champions (Courtesy: GKFC Media)

Gokulam Kerala FC are one of the strongest contenders to make the jump from the I-League to the ISL. The defending I-League champions will eye a third consecutive league win and finally earn their place in the top tier. 

The 2019 Durand Cup winners boast a lot of quality in their squad, one that can compete and win against any ISL club. They did not participate in the recent edition of the Durand Cup citing scheduling issues. However, they won by 4-2 against ATK Mohun Bagan in the AFC Cup earlier in May 2022, which is proof of the capability of GKFC.

Mohammedan SC

Mohammedan SC I-League
The Black Panthers finished as the runner-up in I-League last season (Courtesy: MDSC Media)

Football fans in Kolkata majorly swear their allegiance to three top clubs, namely ATK Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan SC. Two of the three clubs are already in ISL and the third could also enter the league by merit. Players like Marcus Joseph and Nikola Stojanovic will certainly light up the competition in the ISL if the team makes it.

Mohammedan SC finished as runners-up last term and would have more incentive this year to compete for the league title. The club also made it to the 2022 Durand Cup semi-finals, losing out to Mumbai City FC but knocking out Kerala Blasters FC on the way.

Churchill Brothers SC

Churchill Brothers I-League
The Red Machines finished fourth in the I-League last season (Courtesy: I-League Media)

Churchill Brothers SC have a rich history and the club have the means to finish as I-League champions in the forthcoming season. The two-time I-League winners, three-time Durand Cup winners and one-time Federation Cup winners will aim to finish at the top of the league standings, after securing fourth place last term.

They will face stiff competition from newcomers Sreenidi Deccan FC and the usual suspects mentioned above. However, players like Tana, Abdoulaye Sané and more could play a role in helping the club win the competition. Playing in the ISL has been an ambition for the club and its fans and it could soon be a reality.

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