MOHUN BAGAN AND CHENNAI CITY FC ARE taking part in the Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup ahead of the league season in Bangladesh this month.
The bi-annual tournament, recognized by AFC as a tier 2 international club competition, will feature 8 clubs from 5 countries; including 3 from host country Bangladesh, 2 from India and 1 each from Malaysia, Maldives and Laos.
Originally the organizers had wanted to invite the three Kolkata giants; East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting. But Mohammedan Sporting decided early on that they would not participate, and East Bengal also decided to pull out last month (reportedly to cut costs for pre-season preparations).
Both Mohammedan Sporting and East Bengal, however, did participate in the inaugural edition of this tournament back in 2015. While Mohammedan lost all their group stage matches, East Bengal topped the group beating Bangladeshi club Chittagong Abahani and Pakistani club K-Electric FC. In the semi-final they beat Mohammedan Sporting (Dhaka) 3-0 to reach the final, where they lost to local club Chittagong Abahani in front of a sellout crowd of 30,000.
The subsequent edition, held in 2017, saw TC Sports Club from Maldives win the tournament by beating Korean club FC Pocheon by penalties in the final.
This time, the tournament features an impressive line-up of clubs. Apart from the Indian entrants Mohun Bagan and Chennai City, the three Bangladeshi clubs participating are hosts Chittagong Abahani and the top two clubs from Bangladesh Premier League: Basundhara Kings and Dhaka Abahani. From Maldives, the TC Sports Club will participate; they are the defending champions of this tournament. They also won the Dhivehi Premier League, the top division league of Maldives, in 2018.
From Laos, top flight club Young Elephants FC will be participating. In the latest season of Lao Premier League, they finished third; falling just 1 point short of finishing second which would have granted them a place in the AFC Cup Play-Off Round.
And finally, Terengganu Football Club, a top division club from Malaysia, will also participate. In the 2019 season of the Malayisa Super League, they finished 7th.
On 11th October a draw was held to divide the eight clubs into two groups. The Group A will feature: Mohun Bagan AC, TC Sports Club (defending champions), Young Elephants FC and Chittagong Abahani (host club). The Group B includes: Chennai City FC (champions of India), Basundhara Kings FC (champions of Bangaldesh), Dhaka Abahani (Second best club in Bangladesh) and Terengganu FC.
This ensures that the best clubs in India and Bangladesh, who are likely to face off in the AFC Cup 2020 group stages, will get an early face-off with each other. This is particularly helpful for Chennai City FC, who will get a chance to face high quality Asian opponents for the first time in a competitive setting ahead of their all-important debut in AFC Champions League Qualifiers in January 2020.
Mohun Bagan, who enjoy a vast popularity in Bangladesh due to their pre-independence ties to the region and the role they played in cultural restoration post their war for independence from Pakistan, will be central to the showcasing of this tournament when they take on the local club Chittagong Abahani and the defending champions TC Sports Club.
The competition kicks off on 19th October and concludes on the 29th October. The top two clubs from each group will qualify for the semi-finals, followed by grand finale. All matches will take place at the M. A. Aziz Stadium in Chittagong. Apart from the trophy, the champions will receive a prize money of $50,000. The runner-up will get a purse of $25,000 while every participating club will receive an appearance fee of $10,000.