I-League Qualifiers: FC Bengaluru United, Bhawanipore FC Unfazed by No Fans in Stadium

FC Bengaluru United (Photo Credit: AIFF)

FC Bengaluru United (Photo Credit: AIFF)

I-League Qualifiers: FC Bengaluru United and Bhawanipore FC will face off in the first match of the tournament at 12.30PM on Thursday.

The I-League qualifiers is set to be the first tournament to be held in India ever since all activities were stopped due to coronavirus pandemic in March earlier this year. Like elsewhere in the world, fans will not be allowed in the stadiums and the five participating teams - ARA FC, Bhawanipore FC, Garhwal FC, FC Bengaluru United and Mohammedan Sporting Club - will begin their quest to make it to the I-League on Thursday in Kolkata.

Bhawanipore FC, who are playing in their home conditions, would have expected some fans to show up had the situation been normal but their coach Sankarlal Chakraborty said they have been aware that there would be no fans and hence, that should not pose any problem.

"We know fans and public will not be there so that won't be much of a problem. Of course, with fans the performance is different but at least football is starting. I am very happy that football is starting. Football is not only a game, it develops a society. So with the start of football, a lot of people will get back their jobs, so I am very happy," Chakraborty said in the virtual press conference, which was held and live streamed since media is not allowed at the venue.

FC Bengaluru United's (FCBU) coach Richard Hood, on the other hand, said his team could draw inspiration from the love of their families and fans. "12th man really doesn't matter here. Our families and everyone will be backing us and will reach out to us before the games. So that's reason enough to do our best and not rely on beyond what the reality is now," he said.

Both the teams' coaches were satisfied with the preparation they have been able to get ahead of the tournament and were positive about their chances to qualify for the I-League. Hood said AIFF had kept them abreast with possible dates and so they were able to make preparations accordingly. "Given the short notice, we were ready to finish the season even before AIFF gave us the tournament details and stuff. So we went back on recruitment, and training facilities and the last few weeks before leaving for Kolkata, we have had quite a bit of time. Everyone stayed in touch with us constantly and most of it was reliable information to help us plan for this in a sufficient manner," he said.

Chakraborty, on the other hand, said he was very happy with his squad and their preparation. "No team wants to lose but it is also true that no one can say we are going to be champions because there are lots of factors. We have prepared well, three of our players are not available but I think based on our preparation, we can qualify."

FCBU and Bhawanipore will be kicking off the tournament at 12.30PM and according to Hood, that will be the first big test for his team. "The first game will definitely test us because it is a noon kick off so hopefully the weather will help us and the humidity doesn't go out of control. We have ironed things in terms of preparation but we will have to assess on how things play out in Kolkata," he explained.

Hood said his team practiced at 11am for four days, when they were able to assess "how much water our boys lost over the course of a game" and could be making changes accordingly. "We expect the conditions to be tough. Also, we have kept an eye on the transfers the other teams have made. Sankarlal is a respected tactician so we can't expect it to be easy and we are more than ready to meet the challenge," Hood further said.

The second division was going on when the coronavirus pandemic struck and everything was shut down and now, after a break of six months, the teams are going to be back on the field for the qualifiers. During the lockdown, everyone had to stay indoors and rely on their personal fitness sessions with whatever amenities they had with them. With just about a month's preparation, the players will be back to competitive football, and that is likely to be a test of their fitness with injury concerns staying around.

Hood said his team's strength and conditioning coach and the physiotherapist have worked very hard to ensure the team's fitness and he was positive that his boys could hold up for 90 minutes. "I think we have a robust system in terms of injury prevention programme being implemented. Also, the five substitution rule and breaks between each half would really help us. It's the same for other teams as well so the only advantage would be preparation and I think we have met all the benchmarks we wanted to. I think the squad we have is of good quality, with players having I-League and ISL experience regularly. So we are hoping to do well," he concluded.

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