On Sunday the inaugural Indian Super League (ISL) match took place as Atletico de Kolkata beat Mumbai City 3-0.
Goals from Fikru Teferra, Borja Fernandez and Arnal Llibert gave Kolkata a 3-0 victory as Nicolas Anelka and Freddie Ljungberg were missing for Mumbai. A crowd of over 20,000 saw the match play out as soccer continues to grow in India, with a glitzy show opening up the first game in the league which is following a similar concept to the Indian Premier League cricket league.
The Indian national team are currently ranked 158th in the world and one of the ISL’s targets is to help the country qualify for the 2026 World Cup.
With high profile owners such as legendary cricket star Sachin Tendulkar, Spanish giants Atletico Madrid linked with Kolkata and Bollywood star Abhishek Bachchan pumping money into the league, each team must have at least one ‘marquee player’ in a similar idea to Designated Players in Major League Soccer. ISL clubs must also sign seven other foreigners and of those foreigners, only two can be signed directly by the club with the other five coming from a foreign player draft. Each team must also have 14 Indian domestic players, four of which being local players to the city
Some incredibly talented players have so far been tempted to India, with Anelka and Ljungberg joined by Luis Garcia, David James, Marco Materazzi, Michael Chopra, Robert Pires, David Trezeguet, Joan Capdevila, Elano and Alessandro Del Piero. Brazilian legend Zico is the manager of FC Goa, while England and Everton legend Peter Reid is Mumbai’s boss.
The ISL will run for the next 10-weeks in a tournament format with eight teams in total. Kolkata and Mumbai are joined by the Delhi Dynamos, Chennaiyin, FC Goa, FC Pune City, Kerala Blasters and Northeast United FC.
The aim of the league is to increase the popularity of the sport in a country where cricket dominates. The rest of the soccer world is rather intrigued by this format and is looking on intently to see whether or not the ISL is a success.