I-League: The league will launch India’s future stars, says AIFF secretary

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New Delhi: The 11th edition of the Hero I-League, India’s premier and top-most football tournament was officially launched at a glittering ceremony in New Delhi on Tuesday.

The almost four month league from November 25 – March 6, will be an exciting battle between 10 teams, with Gokulam Kerala FC from Calicut, Neroca FC from Imphal, Manipur and Indian Arrows from Delhi, joining the other teams in the league. All these teams from the different states of India and with their individual football cultures and heritage will significantly enhance the reach of the league in the country.

“This year is all about showcasing what the Hero I-League has been doing for years, launching Indian football’s future stars. History is testimony that the I-League has laid the foundation for Indian football stars to go ahead and shine in their careers and make the country proud. The edition also pays special tribute to the coaches who create those stars with their dedication and commitment towards the beautiful game. We are happy to welcome Kerala back in the league and the return of I-League football to Delhi. I believe these new developments along with the clubs from Northeast, West Bengal, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Goa will make the league even more competitive and  interesting. I would like to convey my best wishes to all the participating clubs of this year’s edition,” said Mr. Kushal Das, General Secretary, All India Football Federation.

The game will also make a return to the national capital, Delhi with the AIFF developmental team Indian Arrows making a return. “Earlier it was Pailan Arrows, now Indian Arrows. The name may be different but I believe the players are amazing,” said Mohun Bagan coach Sanjoy Sen.

Luis Norton De Matos, who will be the head coach of the new entrant, that possess some of the best U-17 and U-19 footballers from the country said, “We’re here to learn more and we have to give our best. If we draw, if not win, it’s a great victory for us and we are positive for the challenges.”

The winner of the league will receive a prize money of Rs. 1 crore, while the runners-up will get Rs. 60 lakh. The third and the fourth placed teams will also earn a prize money of Rs. 40 and Rs. 25 lakh respectively.

It was an incredible season for the 2016-17 I -League winners Aizwal FC, who rose above all expectations to clinch the title under the tutelage of Khalid Jamil. Syhlo Malsawmtuanga, who lifted the trophy, will once be leading his team as they aim for two titles in as many years and present on the occasion he said, “Last season was amazing and this year also we expect the fans to come out in large numbers and provide the necessary support.”

The gaffer has however changed sides and now manages a club that has failed to win the title for the last 14 years and talking of his team’s chances Jamil said, “Expectations are high from us and we are here to give a big fight and hopefully win the season this year.”

The 10 teams from nine states of the 11th Hero I-League are – Defending Champions Aizawl FC (Mizoram), Neroca FC (Manipur), Shillong Lajong FC (Meghalaya), Mohun Bagan AC & Kingfihser East Bengal (West Bengal), Minerva Punjab (Punjab), Gokulam Kerala FC (Kerala), Churchill Brothers FC Goa (Goa), Indian Arrows (Delhi), Chennai City FC (Chennai).

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