The main competition of the Federation Cup 2009 gets underway from 21st November, 2009. This year the tournament will be held in two cities of the State of Assam, Guwahati and Silchar. This year the tournament will have 16 teams split in 4 groups playing amongst themselves and the winner of each group advancing to the semifinal stage.

The composition of each group is as follows –

Group A (Silchar) – Kingfisher East Bengal, JCT, Salgaoncar SC and Viva Kerala;

Group B (Guwahati) – McDowell Mohun Bagan, Mahindra United; Chirag United and Mohammedan Sporting

Group C (Silchar) – Churchill Brothers, Sporting Clube de Goa, Mumbai FC and the winner from the qualifying matches underway in Mumbai;

Group D (Guwahati) – Dempo Sports Club, Air India, Shillong FC and Pune FC;

Looking at the composition of the groups it is quite evident that the AIFF has cut out any scope of the final being an all-Kolkata or an all-Goa affair. The two powerhouses of Kolkata, McDowell Mohun Bagan and Kingfisher East Bengal (assuming both end up as respective group winner) will have to battle it out at the semifinal stage and the victorious team will advance to the final to cross sword with a Goan team. Likewise, Churchill Brothers and Dempo Sports Club (assuming they end up as winner of their respective groups) will battle it out in the semifinal and await the winner of the two Kolkata teams.

Last year’s winner and title defender McDowell Mohun Bagan have been pitted in a tough group along with Mahindra United, Chirag United and perhaps Mohammedan Sporting or Cammelia George Telegraph joining in as the qualifier. All first named three teams are equally capable of ending up as group champion considering their performance in the I-League. Many football pundits have termed this as the “Group of Death”. McDowell Mohun Bagan’s coach Karim Bencherifa is quite accustomed to assimilate such pressures and will use all his guiles to see his side through.

Kingfisher East Bengal, running through an unexpected bad patch, national duty call-up and injuries find themselves in a relatively easier group and if the new coach, the Belgian, Philip de Rider and his boys maintain their calm and composure and refrain from doing anything silly should easily top the group. Also, the players of this club must have the required self-belief to do something creditable. The local population of Silchar, mostly migrant Bengalis from erstwhile East Pakistan should be rooting for Kingfisher East Bengal vociferously. However, JCT, Salgaoncar and Viva Kerala have enough strength to upset KEB’s applecart.

Before jumping to any conclusion as to which team will win the title this year it will be prudent to assess the potential of the teams who can make it to the semi-final stage from the four groups. Also, it is to be borne in mind that AIFF has capped the number of foreigners to two. Consequently, each team will be able to field two foreigners, a PIO and an Asian –

1. Churchill Brothers, Goa – Perhaps the most noticeable and successful football club in the country. The side has started the new season with a bang, having one two prestigious knockout tournaments, the IFA Shield and the Durand Cup. Although, they are currently the table-topper in the I-League their game style this year has not been as fluid and charming as it was last year. A side that boasts of Odafa Okolie, Ogba Kalu, Felix Chimawuku, Gouramangi Singh, Robert Lalthalma, Reishangmi Vashum and a few others should surely stand out as clear favorite. Team think tank and their coach Carlos Pahira will have to decide which one of the three foreigners he will bench. Going by their recent success in the IFA Shield and the Durand Cup in all probability it will be Felix Chimawuku who will sit out.

2. McDowell Mohun Bagan, Kolkata – Last year’s Federation Cup winner and the most number of wins in their showcase (13 times) are a much stronger side this year. Having held on to the nucleus they have inducted Edeh Chiddi, the prolific Nigerian from Mahindra United as a replacement for Bhaichung Bhutia who has switched allegiance to Kingfisher East Bengal under acrimonious circumstances. Chiddi has been scoring goals at random and is now the side’s goal machine as is Odafa for Churchill. Mohun Bagan reached the finals of the two knockout tournaments, the IFA Shield and the Durand Cup but eventually lost out to Churchill Brothers. Coach Karim will be in a dilemma to compose his starting line-up as the team has some very competent players in each of the zones, with the ex-India goalie, Sangram Mukherjee and Shilton Pal as his understudy to man the citadel. In defense, the side boasts of the ever dependable, Dipak Mondal, Surkumar Singh, Sheikh Azim, Biswajit Saha and N. Mohanraj. A star-studded midfield comprising of L. James Singh, Snehasish Chakraborty, Micky Fernandes, Ishfaq Ahmed, Rakesh Masih and the Japanese Seuoka with the striking line of Barreto and Chiddi. Jose Ramirez Barreto joins the side after an injury lay-off and consequently Marcos Periera sits out for this tournament. Unless they perform miserably and exhibit below par performance there is no reason to discount their chances of reaching the final and winning the Federation Cup.

 3. Mahindra United – A very strong side this year, boasting of players of the likes of Sushant Mathews, D. Ravanan, Kali Alaudeen, Debabrata Roy, K. Aseem, N. P. Pradeep, K. N. Ajayan, Steven Dias and Mohammad Rafi. The side has two excellent foreigners in Svetozar Mijin and Muritala Ali and a shrewd coach in David Booth. Should be quite a handful for the other teams in their group and it will be a toss-up between them, McDowell Mohun Bagan and Chirag United.

4. Chirag United – Subrata Bhattacharjee, their coach is gifted with excellent game reading ability and has a side that is quite capable of giving a fight to the opposition. Composed mostly of discards from the two big Clubs of Kolkata and a few from other parts of the country, Bhattacharya has groomed the side and has seen them performing creditably thus far. Currently they are second placed in the I-League, a point behind Churchill Brothers. The side boasts of three good Brazilians in Edmilson Pardel, Eduardu Chacon and Joshimar da Silva who can fire up and play consistently well. Subrata Bhattacharjee will be hard pressed to decide which one of the three foreigners he will exclude. In all probability it could be Edmilson Pardel. Also, home grown players of the likes of Sandip Nandy, Lalkamal Bhowmick, Jayanta Sen, Malsamtulunga and Denson Debdas need to play to their full potential. The side is quite capable of giving a run for their money to the other two heavyweights, McDowell Mohun Bagan and Mahindra United.

5. Dempo Sports Club, Goa – This side finished runners-up last year losing to McDowell Mohun Bagan in the final. The team has prolific goal scorers in Ranty Martins, Roberto Silva (Beto), their two foreigners. Besides, Clifford Miranda, Anthony Periera and Joaquim Abranches are excellent play makers. The upfront is also bolstered with the induction of Sunil Chetri from Kingfisher East Bengal and Nascimento Silviera from Churchill Brothers. The midfield has dependable players in Climax Lawrence, Jerry Zirsanga and Nicolau Borges. Also boasting of some very dependable players in the back-four, Dharamjit Singh (from MMB), Anwar Ali (from JCT), John Dias, Peter Carvalho, Samir Naik and Mahesh Gawli. The last two may not be available for the Federation Cup as the duo stand suspended by AIFF for not reporting for national duty on the pretext of being injured. This side is capable of winning the Cup.

6. Kingfisher East Bengal Club, Kolkata – The side, thanks to a big goof-up by their former coach, Subhas Bhowmick are an unsure lot. The Club recruited a few foreigners with much fanfare at the start of the season and tested them out in both the IFA Shield and the Durand Cup. The inglorious exit in the group stage prompted the Club management to discard all of them and Bhowmick without much hesitation. As such, the side started off the I-League campaign disastrously and dropped points at random. They have a side playing much below par except for their Ghanaian forward, Yusif Yakubu and to a certain extent, the Mumbai FC discard, Abel Hammond. Quite a few of their players, including Bhaichung Bhutia, Rahim Nabi and Renedy Singh are currently in the India camp. Bhutia and Yakubu should be teaming up upfront to add some semblance of strength to the side. The team has a very mediocre back four and midfield and this could cause problems for their new coach like his predecessor. However, the supporters of the club will be looking forward eagerly to see the players make a major turnaround and giving a good account of themselves.

Not much is expected from the other teams of the four groups, such as, JCT, Salgaoncar SC, Viva Kerala, Sporting Clube de Goa, Mumbai FC, Air India, Shillong FC and Pune FC. Their recent performance in the I-League and their strength on paper do not warrant serious consideration. Also they lack the requisite firepower in them to make much headway beyond the group stage. However, football is a very fascinating game where there are days when the underdogs have come out victors.


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