With cricket World Cup gradually moving towards exciting knockout stage, country's premier football tournament, the IFA Shield is all set to be a low-key affair when the tournament kicks off at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan here on March 11.
The Indian Football Association (IFA) Secretary Utpal Ganguli rued that the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has not given due importance to the tournament, to be held from March 11-31, running into its 115th edition.
"Unfortunately, the AIFF has not accorded priority to this. So we are forced to organise the tournament in this time. The AIFF had earlier agreed to slot it during the pre-season. It all requires the AIFF permission," Ganguli said.
There are concerns about the teams fielding second-string outfits as many India players would be out of action because of India camp for the pre-Olympic qualifiers while East Bengal will be engaged in their AFC Cup campaign.
But Ganguli assured the tournament will not lack its sheen.
"I'm not bothered about what's happening in cricket. There is a discernible interest in football and it's up to the media to give the premier tournament due attention. I can only assure that all the teams will field their main sides and there is no question mark about East Bengal's participation," Ganguli argued.
Ten clubs including China outfit Shandong Luneng Taishan and five I-League clubs including Churchill Brothers and the city's 'Big Two' will be seen in action. There will be a league-cum-knock-out format with top two teams from two groups making the last four cut.
East Bengal have been pooled with Churchill Brothers in group A, while in group B Mohun Bagan, Pune FC and Chirag United will be seen in action.
The winners will take home Rs 10 lakh, while the runners-up will be richer by Rs 7 lakh and the third-placed side will be given a cash award of Rs 1 lakh, the IFA secretary said.
The 'Officer's Choice' will be the title sponsors.
A: East Bengal, Mohammad Sporting, Southern Samity, Churchill Brothers, Shandong Lueng FC (China).
B: Mohun Bagan, Chirag United, Aryan Club, Shillong Lajong FC, Pune FC.