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Football

Won't just be playing Durand Cup for fun: Anirudh Thapa

The 2022 Durand Cup, the world's third-oldest tournament, will kick off the Indian football season this year. Players and coaches from across ISL teams speak about the significance of the tournament and what they expect from it.

Wont just be playing Durand Cup for fun: Anirudh Thapa
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Anirudh Thapa trains during the pre-season (Chennaiyin FC)

By

Triyasha Chatterjee

Updated: 2022-08-08T14:56:29+05:30

India's football clubs are making preparations for the long season ahead as the transfer window closes. The Durand Cup, the world's third-oldest tournament, will kick off the season across Kolkata, Imphal, and Guwahati on August 16.

This will be the first edition of the Durand Cup which will feature all Indian Super League (ISL) clubs, five I-League clubs, and four Armed Forces teams. Plentuy of derbies and old animosities will be rekindled as the teams from different divisions lock horns.

Chennaiyin FC captain and Indian international Anirudh Thapa, speaking to the Bridge, said the tournament is important to build co-ordination in Indian football ahead of the ninth edition of the ISL.

"Durand Cup is different, ISL is different. We know the value of ISL. We will know what (style) we will be playing, what teams we will be playing. And that's Durand Cup for us. Obviously, it is important. It's not that we are just playing for fun. But more of it, it is to get to know each other, and what all we need to do to perform in the ISL," Thapa said.

He also said the tournament is set to give his team an idea of where they stand ahead of the season.

"For us, it (Durand Cup) is important. We have a new team. The foreigners are new. So, we need that game-time to get used to the style the coach wants from us. Rafa (Rafael Crivellaro), who was out (injured), also needs that game-time. I think these matches are important to get along with each other," stated Thapa.

Mumbai City FC head coach Des Buckingham also stressed on the need to have a proper tournament like the Durand Cup to kick off the football season.

"It's a tournament we are focused on, we'll be taking our full first team and we'll use the games to be as successful as we can. It's the oldest tournament in India and we are looking forward to it, especially playing with fans around for the first time in a while. The Cup gives a bit of a chance to try a few things out and then it always gives us the games to prepare for the season," he said.

Odisha FC head coach Josep Gambau said: "For us, it's an important tournament. It is the third oldest tournament in the world โ€“ which is a big thing for us as a club. All the players are together, except some who are arriving this week. We are taking the Durand Cup seriously and we will try to win the competition."

While the clubs are looking at the Durand Cup as an ideal start to the season where they figure out the strengths and weaknesses of their own squad and other squads, but there is a deeper purpose the tournament will serve. It will help provide a stage for players from the reserve benches of these clubs, along with the players from the regimental side in getting exposure. It will also provide an arena for the scouts to pick up better talents to nurture.

While the I-League vs Indian Super League debate remains unsolved, the Durand Cup will bring in the teams from both the leagues to face each other and prove the claim that both the leagues host an array of talents and sidelining one league to uphold other will be a fool's affair.

Former footballer Mehtab Hossain told The Bridge: "What Indian football right now needs more importantly is a properly scheduled calendar, with local tournaments as well as a common league for both ISL and I-league. Only one league cannot provide the national team with the talent it requires. Players from all the leagues should be given a fair chance to show their talent, even if they are released later, they deserve to get a chance."

Could the Durand Cup become the IPL of Indian football as it seeks to regain its lost glory? That is what Durand Cup delegate Lt. Gen. KK Repswal said. "The Durand Cup can be the IPL of football. Next year, we must plan for a pool in Meghalaya, Assam, Manipur and probably Mizoram as well," he said.

Durand Cup Groups

Group A - FC Goa, Mohammedan Sporting, Bengaluru FC, Jamshedpur FC, Indian Air Force.

Group B - East Bengal, ATK Mohun Bagan, Mumbai City FC, Rajasthan United FC, Indian Navy.

Group C - NEROCA FC, TRAU FC, Hyderabad FC, Chennaiyin FC, Army Red.

Group D - Sudeva FC, Odisha FC, NorthEast United FC, Kerala Blasters FC

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