The I-League 2022-23 promises an unparalleled season with promotion to the ISL as the prize

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The landscape of Indian football will never be the same after the 2022-23 season as the new edition of the Indian Premier League is set to change the game on its head.

Winning the I-League means promotion to the Indian Super League A-League, without payment of any fee but subject to fulfillment of club licensing criteria.

After years of not adhering to the roadmap, which was determined after consultation with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and approved in 2019 – which stipulated that the League One champion team for the 2022-23 season, as well as the team for the 2023-24 season, will Claim a direct slot in next season’s ISL, with the promotion and relegation system set to kick in in the ISL from the 2024-25 season onwards – the Indian football hierarchy is finally back on track.

Also read: ISL 2022-23: Marco Bulbul feels NEUFC “deserves a point”; ATKMB Boss Juan Ferrando Says ‘Unlucky’

The last two seasons have seen the league played from within the confines of a biological bubble, with all matches played in West Bengal – via Kolkata, Kalyani and Nehati. With the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, the I-League will once again become an all-India affair, with 12 clubs set to play at up to 13 locations across the country.

With Indian arrows project solution by all India The FA and subsequent restart of Kinkiri FC, I-League will see participation from Gokulam Kerala, Muhammadan SC, Srindi Deccan, Churchill Brothers, Roundglass Punjab, Rajasthan United, Neroka, Aizawl, TRAU, Sodiva Delhi, Real Kashmir and Kankiri FC .

Back and forth

The Aizawl will play their home matches at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in the capital of Mizoram as Churchill Brothers will call the GMC Athletic Stadium in Margao their base. Gokulam Kerala will have EMS Stadium in Kozhikode and Payyanad Stadium in Manjeri as their home stadiums and likewise Real Kashmir will play in Srinagar at Bakshi Stadium and TRC Turf Ground.

Mohammedan SC will move to Kishore Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata where Kenkre will have Cooperage land as their base of operations. Khuman Lampak’s home stadium in Imphal will see rivals NEROCA and TRAU share amenities as Sreenidi Deccan will play at the newly launched Deccan Arena in Hyderabad and RoundGlass Punjab will be called the Tau Devi Lal Stadium in Mohali.

Football returned to the national capital two days ago from the National Football League as Delhi will host Sudiva Delhi at the Chhatrasal Stadium and Jaipur-based Rajasthan United will play their home matches at the Ambedkar Stadium. The home country does not have a single AFC standard football stadium.

With the I-League crossing the length and breadth of the country, the new season will see football reach every pocket imaginable – from Jammu and Kashmir in the north to Kerala in the south with Mizoram in the east to Maharashtra in the west.

Title addresses

As for the contenders, defending champions Gokulam Kerala will want to make the treble after making history by becoming the first ever side to win their maiden league title in a row.

Richard Tua, who replaced Vincenzo Anesi as head coach with some notable changes to their roster as well, knows the challenge of making it three out of three.

“Every team will fight hard to prevent us from making it three in a row and that will be a tough responsibility. We are preparing hard for this and everyone at the club knows in their minds that we are ready to win the championship and defend our title.”

The Malbarians will start the season against last season’s runners-up, Mohammedan SC after missing out on the title last time on the last day.

Andrei Chernyshov is still in command and will want to go that extra step this season.

“We are all looking forward to the start of the new season. Our team wants to fight for victory in the Hero I-League. We want to show exciting, interesting football that the fans love.”

Sreenidhi Deccan, the surprise team of last season, will want to repeat his feat again and maybe go a few steps further this time around. And they roped in Carlos Vaz Pinto as president.

“We want to play dominant football and fight to stay at the top of the table,” Pinto was quoted as saying by the I-League website.

Despite his third-place finish, Pinot feels that “everything that happened last season will not affect the players. This season is a new story with new players and new goals.”

Churchill Brothers of Goa will always be in the mix as Head Coach Antonio Rueda will have some fresh faces under him.

“We want to continue to be a fearsome team in the opposition zone,” Rueda told I-League, adding: “I think it will be a very even, closely contested league. There will not be any difference in points between the first and last places. All teams have been strengthened. Very well. Last season, any team could beat anyone, and this year I think it will be the same.”

Spring surprise

Former champions Aizawl FC and RoundGlass Punjab (eg Minerva Punjab) will want to throw their hat in the ring as well.

“Anything is possible in football and life, and I believe we are a team that can beat anyone in our day,” Aizawl coach H Standley Rosario told I-League.

RoundGlass Punjab boss Staikos Vergetis is also looking to take the lead with the help of some experienced players.

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“Our vision is very clear. Although we will take it one match and one training session at a time, the ultimate goal is to see our team finish top.”

Rajasthan United have turned some heads in recent years as they have stepped onto the big stage out of relative obscurity. After finishing sixth in their debut season, they have grown from strength to strength in the meantime. They made their way to the quarter-finals of the Durand Cup, by defeating ATK Mohun Bagan, and held East Bengal to a draw, as well as winning the Baji Root Cup.

“The I-League has a rich history of competing until the last day of the season. There is no reason this season should be any different,” coach Pushpendra Kondu told the I-League website.

Sudiva Delhi Atsushi Nakamura will be in charge as they welcome some foreign stars to add to their young Indian players. Meanwhile, local hero Maharajuddin Waddoo will lead Real Kashmir at the national level, after leaving Sudiva after a disappointing season.

The teams bring together Imphal Derby participants – TRAU and NEROCA, with either team looking to build for the future and launch some upsets. Apart from the other matches, their clash will surely attract big numbers and be a highlight match this season.

As last season’s title race went a long way, another mouth-watering proposal for football fans across India.

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