The 10th edition of the I-League will kick off on the January 7, 2017 and will involve ten teams after Chennai City and Minerva Punjab were granted direct entry. The prospective fixtures for the first nine of the total 18 rounds were released today.
Churchill Brothers, suspended by the All India Football Federation in 2014, for not matching the federation’s club licensing criteria have been reinstated and will be the only team from Goa after Dempo, Salgaocar and Sporting Clube de Goa pulled out.
The defending champions and 2016 Asian Federation Confederation Cup finalists Bengaluru FC will kick their campaign off against Shillong Lajong at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on January 7 while the other match of the day will see Aizawl FC square off against Kolkata giants East Bengal at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Aizawl, Mizoram.
Aizawl were relegated last season but were spared after the AIFF claimed to have been taken in by their “impressive run” and allowed them to continue in the topmost tier of Indian club football.
Mohun Bagan will welcome old foes Churchill to the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium on January 8. The two I-League debutants, Minerva and Chennai City will begin their campaign against each other at the Nehru Stadium in Chennai on the same day. The other first round fixture will witness the Maharashtra derby as Mumbai FC face off against last season’s debutants DSK Shivajians of Pune at the Cooperage Stadium in Mumbai.
It is important to remember that while DSK are still into the second year of the three-year “no relegation” clause inserted by AIFF into their contract, Bengaluru’s clause expires this season, this being their fourth foray into the I-League.
Among the matches to look out for in the first half of the season are East Bengal welcoming Bengaluru to the Barasat Stadium on January 22, and the first Kolkata derby between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan on the 12th of February to be played at the Kanchenjunga Stadium in Siliguri.
A date for the match between Bagan and BFC has not been decided on yet because of the former’s AFC Cup and the latter’s AFC Champions League commitments.
The Salt Lake Stadium, undergoing renovation for the upcoming FIFA Under-17 World Cup in October 2017 will not be used by either team in the first nine rounds. While Mohun Bagan will be using the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium in Kolkata, East Bengal will be using both the Barasat and the Kanchenjunga stadiums in Barasat and Siliguri respectively.
Another fixture, which has generated a considerable amount of buzz among fans on social media and has been cheekily coined the “Cauvery derby” will be played between the reigning champions and new entrants Chennai City will be played at the Kanteerava on January 14.
Fans can catch all the matches on TEN Sports.