THE DURAND CUP IS giving Indian football fans every possible match-up they have dreamed of, right at the start of the season.
The 132nd edition of the tournament, which is the oldest football tournament in Asia, has decided to turn up the entertainment value up to 11 with major rivalries put to the forefront from the get go.
With Kolkata being one of the hosts, the fans are being treated to a Kolkata Derby on 12th August. Both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal are in Group A, along with newly promoted ISL club Punjab FC and Bangladesh Services.
But the tournament is also offering something the fans have never seen before. For the first time, Kerala Blasters and Gokulam Kerala FC men's teams will face off with each other in the national level. These two teams have come close to playing each other many times before in Super Cup and Durand Cup but they have never done it; but this time there's no doubts about their long-awaited but inevitable collision.
Not just that, Bengaluru FC are also in the same group; so their highly enthralling rivalry with Kerala Blasters will also see its latest edition taking place in Durand Cup.
The fourth team in Group C along with these three stalwarts are Indian Air Force.
In Group B, we have the reigning Champions of India (2022-23) Mumbai City taking on the previous season's champions (2021-22) Jamshedpur FC. Prominent Kolkata-based club Mohammedan Sporting and the Indian Navy team are also present in the group.
With Assam and Meghalaya hosting some of the groups, there is a special focus on clubs like NorthEast United, Shillong Lajong and Bodoland FC. For NEUFC in Guwahati, the opponents will be FC Goa, the newly promoted I-League club Delhi FC and Bhutan Services. Group E, which will be baesd in Shillong, will feature Shillong Lajong, Chennaiyin FC, Hyderabad FC and Nepal Services. In Kokrajhar, Bodoland FC will play in Group F along with a services team, Odisha FC and Rajasthan United.
Notably missing from the tournament are TRAU FC and NEROCA FC, the two prominent Imphal-based clubs, who are facing trouble operating because of the ongoing violence in Manipur. Incidentally, Imphal was initially considered as a host city due to the success of the Tri-Nation series held there in March. But the idea was postponed due to the deteriorating security situation.
The historic Durand Cup trophies (Durand Cup, President's Cup and the Shimla Trophy) are currently touring across the nation to build up hype for what is set to be its biggest season ever. The competition will kick off on 3rd August with Mohun Bagan facing Bangladesh Services in Kolkata.
In a further interesting twist, East Bengal may play one of their group stage matches at the Mohun Bagan Ground; which, if it comes to pass, is going to be remembered an incredibly rare incident, to say the least.