When will Indian football kick off in the 2020-21 season? Nobody has a definite answer to this; not even the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
Sources in the AIFF, however, have been maintaining the possibility of an October-November start unless the Covid-19 scenario worsens across the nation. Given the circumstances, though, top flight domestic football in India is unlikely to hit the pitch before the third week of November.
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The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has tentatively scheduled India’s three FIFA World Cup qualifiers in October and November. All three outings had earlier been suspended due to Coronavirus scare.
Igor Stimac’s boys will play Qatar at home on October 8, followed by the away match against Bangladesh on November 12. The concluding tie is at home on November 17 against Afghanistan.
Left with three points from five matches, India are unlikely to enter the delayed phase with lofty ambitions. At the same time, the matches are of some importance since it would ensure India’s position on road to qualifiers for the 2023 Asian Cup in Australia.
By all means, Stimac would demand a longer camp for his rusty boys, who haven’t kicked a ball since middle of March. Since all his boys are from Indian Super League (ISL), Stimac’s preparatory camp could hamper the pre-season training schedule of the franchises. So, it could be safely assumed that top-level club football may only start once India finish their World Cup campaign.
Sources in the federation feel it shouldn’t be a problem as it would be a delay of a maximum of 10 days from the original schedule planned earlier. As it is, some other factors have to be considered – if World T20 in Australia is replaced by the Indian Premier League (IPL) in India in October/November, then chances of ISL being played at the same time is remote because of the clash of television coverage on the same channel.
But in that case, the ambitious plan of a six-month plus 27-round ISL has to be shelved, at least for the upcoming season. Since there is every possibility that the cricket board would launch the 2021 IPL in time, which means in March, the ISL would find it tough to extend the curtailed 2020-21 season beyond this period.
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The Under-17 Women’s World Cup in India is another international fixture that could disturb the domestic schedule. Though there is no clash of television coverage, three ISL/I-League venues in Kolkata, Guwahati and Bhubaneswar would remain unavailable for domestic use till the women’s world meet final is played on March 7.
I-League, on the other hand, could be played in a more relaxed manner. It has no player in the national team and its television coverage is handled by a different channel. It has a team, Chennai City FC, playing in the Group E of the unfinished AFC Cup, but the first phase of the Chennai outfit’s campaign could be over by the first week of November. Because of paucity of time, AFC could arrange a single venue tournament for the group and that could be over by November 4.
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