Is the I-League a national tournament?
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In four days, the second edition of the I-League will kick off, with Kolkata giants East Bengal taking on newly promoted Kolkata outfit Chirag United. In another game on the same day, Goa's Vasco Sports Club will play statemates Sporting Club de Goa. In fact, there will be more than a fair share of local derbys this season, what with 11 of the 12 clubs coming from just three centres — Goa, Kolkata and Mumbai.
Kolkata is represented by the two giants — East Bengal and Mohun Bagan — apart from promoted sides Chirag United and Mohammedan Sporting. From Goa, there are the defending champions Dempo SC, runners-up Churchill Brothers, Sporting Club de Goa and Vasco, while Mahindra United, Air India and Mumbai FC will fly the flag for Mumbai.
The only other team — which is also, incidentally, the only one from the north — is JCT Mills, Phagwara.
The I-League was modelled on Japan's J-League, but obviously things are falling way short of those lofty standards. The inaugural edition of the J-League, in 1992, had ten teams from nine cities and last year, 18 teams from 17 cities competed for top honours.
In the I-League's inaugural season, last year, 10 teams from four cities took part. The only others were JCT and Viva Kerala, who got relegated.
While those percentages aren't flattering either, the expansion of the league to 12 teams has meant that the spotlight has shifted sharply on the lack of competition from around the country. "We need to spread football across the entire country," India captain and Mohun Bagan star Baichung Bhutia told The Indian Express. "It is up to the football federation to chalk out a strategy so that the game can reach the masses."
Viva Kerala's demotion marks another slump in the recent fortunes of what was once a traditional powerhouse of Indian football.