The tournament will see seven new teams making their debut at the top level of Indian club football.
The I-League Qualifiers 2021 have begun on October 4, marking the onset of the new season of Indian football. Like the previous season, all the senior national level tournaments will be held in one city/state, in strict bio-bubbles due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I-League Qualifiers, which is the third division club competition in the Indian football hierarchy are taking place in Bengaluru. Nine clubs from around the country will fight for a place in the I-league.
Originally, the tournament was set to feature 10 teams. However, the Srinagar-based Hyderya Sports Kashmir were disqualified by the AIFF after it was found that they submitted a fake bank guarantee to earn participation.
In this article, we will look at the three teams that are favourites going into the I-League Qualifiers 2021:
3. Delhi FC
The team from the capital are one of the seven new entrants in the tournament. They qualified for the tournament by virtue of coming second in the Delhi State Football League.
The team are backed by Ranjit Bajaj, one of the most familiar names in Indian football. He previously owned the then-I-League side Minerva Punjab.
The team have quite a good number of youngsters from the renowned Minerva Academy as well as a few experienced foreigners, who have previously plied their trade on Indian shores. In the recently-concluded Durand Cup, the Delhi team got the better of Kerala Blasters, who fielded a strong squad. They also qualified for the quarterfinals. However, the side couldn’t progress any further, as they were humbled by eventual champions FC Goa.
2. Bengaluru United
FC Bengaluru United are making second appearance in the I-League Qualifiers. The Bengaluru-based outfit finished third in the five-team tournament last year. They would hence be wanting to make a statement this time around.
After last season’s mediocre showing, the club managed to retain the majority of the squad this term. FCBU have also signed a couple of high-profile players in Pedro Manzi and Luka Majcen, both of whom have featured in previous I-League seasons. The team also managed to make huge strides in the recently-concluded Durand Cup 2021, reaching the semi-finals of the competition.
The team have a good mix of youth and experience. Further, with the guidance of Richard Hood and former India captain Gouramangi Singh, the team are definitely one to look out for.
1. Kerala United
Kerala United are also one of the new entrants in the tournament. The team were recently acquired by Saudi Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad as part of the ‘United World’ consortium (they own Sheffield United too).
KUFC came third in the Kerala Premier League, which was played earlier this year. However, a lot of changes and upgrades have been made to the squad that played in the league.
The team have quite a high number of seasoned campaigners, including Timothy Munmun Lugun and Akhil Praveen in their arsenal. They have also got quiet a few exciting players like Mohammed Noufal from Kerala, who was previously associated with Al-Hilal United of the UAE. The Malappuram-based outfit’s foreign recruits include Brazilian defender Gabriel Lima, who is an academy graduate of Shakhtar Donetsk.
The style of play of KUFC is relatively unknown compared to the two teams above and the unknown aspect might be their biggest weapon in the tournament. They lost their first game against Kenkre FC after taking a lead, but it’s not yet time to write them off.