New Delhi, Oct 5 : The showpiece I-League football tournament starts Saturday, sans a title-sponsor, with four matches on the day but the spotlight will be on the Goan derby where defending champions Dempo take on tournament favourites Churchill Brothers.
While problems remain aplenty with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and the its commercial partner IMG-Reliance unable to market the league properly, one can be assured of the quality of the game. The league is played in Kolkata, Margao, Mumbai, and Delhi.
Unlike in the last two years, fans can view 75 live and delayed matches on Ten Action. The lung opener between Pailan Arrows vs Mumbai FC in Kolkata will be telcast live along with the Goan derby.
For the record, the new entries this season are Bhaichung Bhutia's United Sikkim Football Club and ONGC.
Dempo finished with 57 points from 26 games last season to clinch their fifth league (including the erstwhile National Football League).
East Bengal gave Armando Colaco and Co. a good run for their money but initial hiccups cost them and the red-and-gold had to be content finishing six points behind Dempo.
This time it would be interesting to see if defending champions, Dempo, who are yet to be paid the last year's prize money, can start the defence of the title against one of the contenders.
Armando Colaco has seen nearly everything in his time as a coach with Dempo. After suffering a heartbreaking loss to East Bengal in the Federation Cup final last Sunday, one would have thought that the effects of this loss would carry over into the I-League for Dempo. Colaco however is composed and accepted the fact that the loss was a missed opportunity.
"Yes, not winning the Federation Cup was a bit disappointing. But I must say that we played very good football in the tournament and the fact that we reached the final spoke of the effort and commitment the players showed during the tournament," Armando was quoted as saying by Goal.com.
Expectations will also be high from star-studded Churchill Brothers who displayed good attacking football in the recently concluded Federation Cup.
Coached by veteran coach Subhash Bhowmick, the Goan side have the likes of Gabonese Henry Antchouet, Brazilian Roberto Mendes Silva and Lebanese recruits Akram Moghrabi and Bilal Najjarin.
Other matches see a Pailan Arrows side that impressed in the Durand and Federation Cup. They will take on Mumbai FC, who's striking force is one to be envied. The likes of Yusif Yakubu, David Okpara and Abhishek Yadav can keep any defence on their toes.
Pune FC has been widely regarded as the team to watchout in the 2012/13 campaign and shouldn't have much trouble against an ONGC side that would be looking to avoid the drop.
Shillong Lajong, who barely avoided relegation last season, will have their hands full when they face one of the favourites Mohun Bagan.
Sunday sees East Bengal play their first match of the new season. The newly crowned Federation Cup champions will play Sporting Clube de Goa at the Fartoda stadium, Margao.
Salgaocar, who surprised all by winning the 2010-11 I-League in style, will seek to mend fences after a forgettable last season where they finished sixth with 44 points. Mohun Bagan too will try and revive their fortunes after not being able to keep pace with their billing of a star-studded team in not only the I-League last season but also the Federation Cup.
Prayag United SC - knocked out in the group stages of the Fed Cup - will also look to resurrect their ship and bag their first trophy especially after roping in quite a few big names including Costa Rican World Cupper Carlos Hernandez. The likes of goal-machine Ranty Martins, India's No.1 under the under Subrata Pal and senior National Team defender Gouramangi Singh add to the list of stars.