The competition will mark the return of Indian football after a long hiatus.
Competitive football in India is set to return for the first time since March, as the I-League Qualifiers kickoff from October 8th. Five 2nd Division League sides will go head-to-head against each other for one I-League spot, with the tournament set to be played in West Bengal.
In this article, we brief you about the I-League Qualifiers and all you need to know about the tournament:
Why the tournament is being played and how many teams are participating?
Usually, the 2nd Division League kicks off in the month of January or February every year. There are a number of teams who apply to participate from all over India. The AIFF opens bids for participation and teams which fulfill the necessary criteria are allowed to take part.
Last season, there were 17 teams, including the reserve teams of eight ISL sides and one I-League team who plied their trade in the league. The teams were split into three groups and the top placed as well as second-best placed non-reserve sides from each qualified for the second round.
Unfortunately, the group stages of the 2nd Division League were yet to be completed before the competition was called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic and no decision was made on promotion. Later on, the AIFF came up with the idea to host a shorter tournament, consisting of the eight non-reserve sides playing against each other at a single venue.
However, from the eight eligible participants FC Kerala, AU Rajasthan and Lonestar Kashmir pulled out of the tournament. The remaining five teams ARA FC (Ahmedabad), Bhawanipore FC (Kolkata) FC Bengaluru United, Garhwal FC (Delhi) and Mohammedan Sporting Club (Kolkata) have confirmed their participation.
Standard Operating Procedures
For the first time in India, players and support staff of the participating teams will be kept in a bio bubble in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. All the teams will be staying at the Hyatt Regency in Kolkata and are barred from meeting others outside the bubble over the course of the tournament.
As part of the SOPs, all the members of every team will need to go through two PCR (Gold Standard) COVID-19 tests before landing in Kolkata and both reports should be negative. Moreover, the reports are to be shared with the AIFF before entering the bio bubble. In case, if any player or staff is found positive, the club needs to ensure that two successive PCR tests are negative for the person to be deemed medically fit.
After entering the bio bubble, the teams will go through four days of quarantine and thereafter, will be allowed to start outdoor practice. The AIFF will also test the players and staff twice during the course of the tournament.
Tournament Format and Rules
Five teams will go head-to-head against each other in a round-robin format, with each team playing the other once. The side that tops the table will be promoted to the I-League. The tournament will also see five substitutions being allowed in a match, as the teams have had a smaller pre-season.
Each team would be allowed three interventions in a match, excluding substitutions made at half-time. The teams will be allowed to register a 21-man squad for a match.
The iconic Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata and Kalyani Stadium situated on the outskirts of the city have been named as host venues for the upcoming I-League tournament.
The Salt Lake Stadium situated in the heart of the “City of Joy” will host four of the 10 games in the qualifiers. It has been home to the famous Kolkata Derby over the years and has also hosted the final of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017. On the other hand, Kalyani has hosted many Calcutta Football League games as well as the SAFF U-15 Championship in the recent past.
The tournament is scheduled to be played from 8th-19th October and will be split between five matchdays. Each matchday will have two games with a kickoff time of 12:30 pm and 4:30 pm respectively. Moreover, each team will have a break of one matchday.
The tournament will kick-start with Bhawanipore FC playing against FC Bengaluru United at the Salt Lake Stadium and will end with ARA FC playing Bhawanipore at Kalyani.
All India Football Federation has issued a notice to accept bids for the production of the I-League Qualifiers 2020. Official decision on the telecast is expected to be taken within a week.