The 131st edition of the Durand Cup begins in Kolkata on Tuesday, with one of the world's oldest footballing competitions now acting as the curtain-raiser to the Indian football season.
What is the history of the Durand Cup?
First played in 1888, the Durand Cup is Asia's oldest-ever club competition. Mohun Bagan and East Bengal are the the joint-most successful teams in the history of the Durand Cup, with both teams having won it 16 times. However, the two Kolkata giants have not won this trophy in a while, with East Bengal last winning it in 2004, Mohun Bagan in 2000.
What happened last year?
FC Goa were the only ISL club to register their first-team squad for the tournament last year and they took the trophy home after a tense 1-0 win in the final against Mohammedan Sporting. The goal came in extra time, courtesy captain Edu Bedia. Incidentally, the opening game of the competition this year will be a rematch of last year's final.
When is this year's edition happening?
The action kicks off on 16 August, with the final scheduled for 18 September.
Where is it happening?
Three cities will host the Durand Cup 2022 - Kolkata, Imphal, and Guwahati. Both the opening game and the final will happen at the Vivekananda Yubabharati Krirangan (VYBK) in Kolkata. The Kishore Bharati Krirangan (Kolkata), Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium (Guwahati), and the Khuman Lampak Stadium (Imphal), will also host Durand Cup matches this year.
What's different this year?
For starters, the number of participating teams has gone up from 16 to 20. All 11 ISL clubs will make an appearance at this year's competition. For Mumbai City FC, NorthEast United and Odisha FC, this will be their first-ever Durand Cup appearance. In addition to the 11 ISL clubs, five I-League clubs and four teams from the Armed Forces will be taking part.
2019 champions Gokulam Kerala FC are not among the entrants, though. Mohammedan Sporting, TRAU, NEROCA, Rajasthan United, and Sudeva Delhi will represent the I-League in the competition this year.
What's the format?
The 20 teams have been split into four groups of five teams each. Groups A and B will see games played in Kolkata, whereas matches in Group C will be hosted by Imphal, and Group D by Guwahati. The top two from each group then progress to the quarterfinals.
Here are the groups -
Group A: FC Goa, Mohammedan Sporting, Bengaluru FC, Jamshedpur FC, Indian Air Force
Group B: ATK Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Mumbai City FC, Rajasthan United, Indian Navy
Group C: Chennaiyin FC, Hyderabad FC, NEROCA, TRAU, Army Red
Group D: Kerala Blasters, NorthEast United, Odisha FC, Sudeva Delhi FC, Army Green
Matches to watch out for
(In the group stages, of course)
Obviously, the big one to watch out for is the Kolkata Derby where ATK Mohun Bagan take on East Bengal on 28 August. In addition, Group A sees repeats of last year's Durand Cup semifinal and final, with FC Goa playing Bengaluru FC (on 30 August) and Mohammedan (in the opener on 16 August) respectively. Another mouthwatering clash is in Group C, where NEROCA take on TRAU on 18 August in an Imphal Derby, scheduled to be played in front of a boisterous crowd at the Khuman Lampak Stadium.
What about the squads?
Not all clubs have announced their playing squad for the competition yet, but defending champions FC Goa have announced a young squad, with their second-string trying to defend the title. Kerala Blasters too, are not fielding their first-choice lineup in this competition.
However, Mumbai City FC and Odisha FC have already announced their respective squads, complete with six foreigners, while the likes of Bengaluru FC, Chennaiyin FC and ATK Mohun Bagan too are expected to follow suit in naming full-strength squads.