Shillong, Jan 10: No North East club will take part in this season’s Second Division League, which acts as the qualifying tournament for the I-League, for the first time since 2008.
In a press release today, the All India Football Federation announced that 18 teams will contest the Second Division this time around and it will begin in the last week of January.
However, 10 of the 18 clubs are reserve sides of those already competing in the I-League (Punjab FC and Indian Arrows) or Indian Super League (ATK, Jamshedpur, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Chennaiyin, Mumbai City, FC Goa and Kerala Blasters).
The AIFF press release specifically states that the ISL B-teams will only compete in the group stage (as has happened in past seasons) but doesn’t say anything about restricting the reserve sides of Punjab or Indian Arrows, so that would seem to suggest that the latter two could in theory be promoted to next year’s I-League.
The other eight clubs are Lonestar Kashmir, Garhwal FC, Rajasthan FC, Mohammedan Sporting, Bhawanipore FC, ARA FC, FC Kerala and Bengaluru United. The low number of clubs interested in qualifying for the I-League suggests that such a promotion is no longer a big incentive given the I-League’s demotion to second in the ranking of Indian leagues, after the ISL, and the fact that the latter league will remain a closed shop for a few years yet.
Teams will play on a home and away basis against other teams within their group.
The winners of each group along with the best second-placed team between Group A and C will qualify for the final round. However, if reserve teams of ISL clubs finish as winners or runners-up in any group, the position will be passed on to the next non-ISL team, the press release stated.
In the final round, four qualified teams will play at the central venue on a single-leg league system. Eventually, the winners will qualify to the next edition of the I-League.
All 18 teams have cleared the Second Division League club licensing process of 2019-20 season except Lonestar Kashmir, who have been granted a special exemption by the league committee.
Group A: Lonestar Kashmir FC, Punjab FC (reserves), Garhwal FC, Rajasthan FC, ATK (reserves), Jamshedpur FC (reserves)
Group B: Mohammedan Sporting, Bhawanipore, Indian Arrows (reserves), Hyderabad FC (reserves), Bengaluru FC (reserves), Chennaiyin FC (reserves)
Group C: ARA FC, Mumbai City FC (reserves), FC Goa (reserves), FC Bengaluru United, FC Kerala, Kerala Blasters (reserves)
(All India Football Federation photo of TRAU FC after winning the Second Division League 2018-19)