Teams Set for Top Start to Indian Super League

Mumbai take on Kolkata in the first clash of the Indian Super League that has lured former international stars such as Spain's Luis Garcia and France's Nicolas Anelka out of retirement to front the eight teams taking part.

Updated: October 12, 2014 11:54 IST
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Nicolas Anelka ISL training
Stars like French footballer Nicolas Anelka will light up the opening match of ISL between Mumbai and Kolkata.

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Kolkata: India's football coaches pledged to "deliver the goods" in the opening match on Sunday of a glitzy new league that organisers hope will ignite the country's passion for the "beautiful game".

Mumbai take on Kolkata in the first clash of the Indian Super League that has lured former international stars such as Spain's Luis Garcia and France's Nicolas Anelka out of retirement to front the eight teams taking part.

"We've got to go out there and try and deliver the goods and play good football," Mumbai City manager Peter Reid said late on Saturday. (Also read: Ganguly unsure about profits with Atletico de Kolkata)

"It's a massive game," the former Manchester City and Sunderland boss said.

Kolkata coach Antonio Lopez Habas said he expected his charges to play "fatafati" style, a colloquial Bengali phrase for "fantastic football".

"There are no excuses. Our objective is to play well. The weather, the pitch, the opponents should not be any excuse," the Spaniard said.

The match, set to include an opening ceremony with fireworks, dancers and musicians, is likely to draw thousands to Kolkata's Salt Lake stadium.

However Mumbai will be without its star player Freddie Ljungberg, the ex-Arsenal midfielder ruled out on the eve of the match with a calf injury.

Mumbai are also missing Anelka as he serves a ban for a controversial "quenelle" goal celebration in late 2013, which also got him the sack from West Bromwich Albion. He has denied the gesture was racist.

Modelled on cricket's glamorous Indian Premier League, organises hope the city-based franchises will bolster popularity for the sport during the 10-week long competition.

Cricketing greats, such as Sachin Tendulkar, and Bollywood A-listers are co-owners of the teams along with Atletico Madrid of Spain's La Liga.

Rupert Murdoch's Star TV is showing the tournament, also backed by sports management giant IMG and Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani.

"It's going to be a long journey but we all are going to support football," Ambani's wife Nita, who chairs the organising committee, told reporters as she inspected the stadium late Saturday.

Experts say the ambitious ISL faces an uphill battle to convert India's cricket-obsessed fans and develop the country's existing pockets of passion for the game.

On a visit to India in 2007, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said India was the "sleeping giant" of world football.

But India's national side languishes at 158 in the world rankings, which experts blame on sports authorities' failure to develop football training grounds and youth development.

Reid, however, was optimistic.

"There's room enough for two brilliant sports in this sports-mad country," he said.

"And I think this is a good start for football. And I know there's been (Indian) leagues before but it's (the ISL) a great opportunity to go out there and highlight it (football)."

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