October 9 – Six months after the coronavirus pandemic halted sports in India, the I-League qualifiers got the 2020-2021football season under way on Thursday.
The qualifiers for the I-League tend to fly below the radar, but this time they marked Indian football’s return to some sense of normality as well as a dress rehearsal for the main competitions later this year.
In the pre-season competition, a single ticket for the I-League is at stake, with ARA FC, Bhawanipore FC, Garhwal FC, FC Bengaluru United and Mohammedan Sporting Club playing each other in a round-robin format at two different venues within the metropolitan area of Kolkata.
The teams, holed up in hotels across the city, are subjected to regular Covid-19 tests in line with the protocol that the All India Football Federation devised. The governing body also introduced the five-substitution rule, following the example of several major European leagues.
On Thursday, Bhawanipore defeated Bengaluru FC 2-0, even if the team from Bangalore enjoyed the lion’s share of possession. Mohammedan Sporting overcame Garhwal 1-0 courtesy of a late goal by Timothy Munmun Lugun in injury time.
Kolkata will also serve as central hub for the I-League’s main competition. The Bollywood-styled Indian Super League has chosen Goa as host state. Both leagues’ centralised approach to match organization must ensure that the clubs, players and staff can work in a bio-secure bubble.
India has been one of the worst affected countries in the world during the coronavirus pandemic. The country is fast approaching the mark of having had seven million cases, more than 106,000 people have died.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1603324866labto1603324866ofdlr1603324866owedi1603324866sni@o1603324866fni1603324866