I-League to get underway on January 9

The All India Football Federation’s club-based championship will feature 11 teams and will be played in Bengal in accordance with COVID-19 safety protocols.

By Naveen Peter

The 2020-21 season of the I-League, which features clubs from across India, will kickoff on January 9, the All India Football Federation of India (AIFF) announced on Saturday.

Just like the I-League Qualifiers held last month, the I-League will also be played in West Bengal. The matches will be behind closed doors at various venues across the state adhering to the COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).

However, unlike the past seasons, the league organisers have tweaked the competition format for this year.

The 11 participating teams will play each other once before being divided into two groups for the second half of the season.

Until the 2018-19 season, I-League was India’s main league till the franchise-based Indian Super League was pitch-forked as the ‘premier’ competition.

The top six teams will be grouped together and will play against each other once again. The bottom five, meanwhile, too will play each other within their group in a one-leg league format.

Churchill Brothers and Real Kashmir FC will be keen to impress in the I-League. Photo: AIFF.

Aizawl FC, Chennai City FC, Churchill Brothers, Gokulam Kerala FC, NEROCA, Punjab FC, Real Kashmir FC and TRAU will continue in the I-League from last season, while Kolkata side Mohammedan Sporting will feature as a newly promoted team after a triumphant run in the qualifiers.

Joining them will be AIFF’s development side Indian Arrows and Sudeva FC - a New Delhi based team who have been granted a direct corporate entry in the I-League.

The I-League fixtures are expected to be announced in the coming days.

With the I-League Qualifiers proving to be a drill for the upcoming season, the organisers are confident of pulling off the season without any major glitch.

"The I-League Qualifier was a stage rehearsal for the next edition of I-League as it will be a longer and more challenging tournament from every single aspect," Sunando Dhar, CEO, AIFF Leagues said in a media statement.

“We'll work with them hand in hand to make it a grand success and we are confident to pull it off successfully,” he added.