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From the oldest in Asia to ISL: The football tournaments in India

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Football, one of the most followed sports in India, still plays host to the oldest football tournament of entire Asia and the third oldest in the world, the Durand Cup.

India’s prosperous history in football needs no introduction. However, its landscape has changed a lot. Take the Federation Cup for example. Started in 1977, it was India’s premier football competition until the I-League, formerly known as National Football League, came into existence in 1997.

The I-League has now been replaced by the Indian Super League, established in 2014, as the country’s premier football tournament.

Despite ISL’s overpowering presence, India hosts several major tournaments in the country. Here are all the available football trophies in India.

Super Cup

Initially started as the Federation Cup, the Super Cup came into existence in 2018. Until 2017, the winner of the Federation Cup was given a direct entry to the AFC Cup. Since 2018 though, the tournament has seen its fair share of controversies, as in 2019, as many as seven I-League clubs pulled out of the competition, saying the sides have been treated unfairly by the AIFF.

To date, only two editions of the Super Cup have been played, with Bengaluru FC winning one and FC Goa winning the other.

Santosh Trophy

Way before the I-League was played under the name of the National Football League, Santosh Trophy was India’s top domestic football competition. Santosh Trophy, a knock-out competition, is played between all the states of India and government institutions under the All India Football Federation (AIFF). Its first edition was played during the 1941-42 football season with West Bengal defeating Delhi 5-1 in the final. More than 70 editions of the Santosh Trophy have been played till date with West Bengal winning a record 32.

IFA Shield

The IFA Shield is the fourth oldest football competition in the world, having started in 1893. Unlike the Santosh Trophy, where state teams and government institutions are invited, the IFA Shield invites clubs from all over the world to compete. The notable foreign winners of this competition are Club Atletico Penarol of Uruguay (1985) and Bayern Munich II (2005). East Bengal have won the IFA Shield a record 29 times while Mohun Bagan have won it 22 times.

Durand Cup

Started by India’s Foreign Secretary, Mortimer Durand in 1888, the Durand Cup has seen many ups and downs. The tournament was suspended twice during the two World Wars and has seen several changes over the years. Post India’s independence, the venue of the Durand Cup was set to move to Pakistan, but the decision was resisted by many.

Since its inception, a whopping 130 editions of the Durand Cup have been played, with Mohun Bagan and East Bengal dominating the title tally with a joint record of 16 championships each. The competition is played in a round-robin format followed by the knockout rounds.

I-League

The I-League was established in 2007 as the successor of the National Football League. A total of 10 teams participated in its first-ever edition with each team playing 18 matches throughout the season. The likes of Dempo and Churchill Brothers finished with 36 points each but the former clinched the title on the back of a superior goal difference. 

For many years, the I-League was considered India’s premier football competition, but all that changed since the inception of the Indian Super League.

Indian Super League

Established in 2014, the Indian Super League brought the glitter and glamour along with its first edition. Eight teams participated in the 2014 season with the top four teams qualifying for the knockouts. Atletico de Kolkata (now ATK Mohun Bagan) defeated Kerala Blasters 1-0 in the final to win the inaugural season. The team has since won three ISL titles (most by any team) followed by Chennaiyin FC (two).

The first three editions of the Indian Super League were played without any official recognition from the Asian Football Confederation and FIFA. In 2019, however, it was announced that ISL will replace the I-League as India’s top-tier competition with the former now being the second-tier competition. 

From the 2024-25 season, promotion and relegation will come into effect in the ISL. Before that, the I-League winners will get direct entry in ISL in 2022 and 2023.

Indian Women’s League

The Indian Women’s League (IWL) is India’s top tier competition of women’s football. Inaugurated in 2016, four seasons of IWL have been played so far and four different teams have won the championship. The latest edition of IWL saw Gokulam Kerala defeat KRYPHSA Football Club 3-2 in the 2019-20 final.

Indian Women’s League is played in a round-robin format between 12 teams. Bifurcated in two groups of six teams each, the top two teams from each group qualify for the semi-final before making their way to the ultimate showdown.

Featured photo: AFP / Diptendu Dutta

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