New Delhi, Oct 18 (UNI) With leading Bengal clubs, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal expressing their inability to take part due to their hectic schedule, and the tight domestic itinerary, has forced the organisers to have a shorter knock-out format for this year's edition of Osian's Durand football Cup.
Besides East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, who have won the event 31 times between them, another crowd puller from Kolkata- Mohammedan Sporting will also not be taking part in the tournament.
For the first time in the tournament's history, floodlights will be used for the main draw matches and all matches will be played at the Ambedkar Stadium.
The tournament will be followed by the first-ever national professional league. Then there is the World Cup qualifiers and the other committed schedules of the National team, has left hardly any time for the third oldest football tournament in the world.
Once again, like last time, leading players of the country will not be seen in action in the main draw starting on October 30 as they will be busy playing the home leg of the World Cup qualifier against Lebanon in Chennai on October 28.
Secretary of the tournament society Lt Col Joginder Singh said, ''We decided to reduce the length of the tournament and make it knock-out to minimise the strain on the teams as the season is long and strenuous. The teams will only have to play four games in the main draw.'' ''A longer tournament would have meant more matches and more chances of players getting injured,'' he added.
He asserted that Absence of three top Kolkata clubs will not hurt the tournament.
''Yes their absence will be felt. It is unfortunate but we have to accept it. The entries had to come through the state association and we tried to persuade Indian Football Association (IFA), but they could not adjust the dates of their local league.'' ''We have tried to get representation from all regions of the country as this a genuine national tournament,'' he claimed adding, ''We even invited six-seven foreign clubs. One team from Ghana had confirmed participation but backed down at the eleventh hour citing injuries to key players.'' Defending champions Dempo Sports Club, JCT, Mahindra United, Churchill Brothers, Sporting Clube-de-Goa and Air India will be among those vying for top honours.
This year's edition will have a total purse of Rs 20 lakh with the champions taking home eight lakh and the runners-up six lakh.
There will also be prize money till the quarter-final stage. The best player and coach will get richer by Rs 20,000 each.
Four teams will make it to main draw to join 12 of the top teams in the country. Altogether 18 sides, including six from Delhi, will be in action during the qualifying rounds.
The final is slated on November 8.