When the All India Football Federation (AIFF) earlier this year announced a plan of reintroducing a multi-nation tournament (read the erstwhile Nehru Cup) and rechristen it as 'Champions Cup', much was made of how it would be a throwback to the last decade when India won such trophies in its own backyard
Come Saturday, the tournament does kick off, albeit a participant short and with lesser-known teams than envisaged on the outset. India face Mauritius in the opening game of the Tri-nation series at the Mumbai Football Arena in Andheri.
The hosts have their sights straight - the games serving as practice fixtures in the lead up to their crucial 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifier against Macau on 5 September away from home. With the FIFA Rankings not affected irrespective of the result, head coach Stephen Constantine will have the liberty to test the rusty legs of his squad, most of whom are emerging from a long off-season break.
Dropping a place in the latest rankings, not because of any fault of their own, India, now at 97th will have the responsibility of living up to their double-digit tag and produce performances which validate their position on the world scale.
Three vital members of the squad will not be part of the week-long tournament as Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu link up with club side Bengaluru FC to showcase their talents on the AFC Cup stage. As a result, central defender Sandesh Jhingan will be handed the armband, for the first time in his career.
Mumbai City FC 'keeper Amrinder Singh, who was a late addition to the squad will slot right in between the sticks as Constantine will look to keep the shape and the personnel of his XI very similar to that of the last friendly match against Nepal in June here.
Striker Sumeet Passi, who Constantine admitted to being just a passenger in the national team set-up has been ruled out for good but the other 30 members of the squad continue to remain ready for selection.
Mauritius, who are ranked 63 places below the Blue Tigers will relish the opportunity to spring a surprise or two. The Francophone nation, whose fascination with Indian culture and most importantly Bollywood is almost on a similar level to that of the country it emerges from, will face India for the first time ever.
Only a handful of players from the squad have stepped outside the tiny nation to ply their trade. However, they do have midfielder Kevin Bru, who has been on the rosters of 1981 European Cup winners Ipswich Town since 2014.
Coached by Brazilian Francisco Filho who is a former youth coach under the Sir Alex Ferguson regime at Manchester United, Bru, has been handed the responsibility to prepare a team for Indian Ocean Island Games 2019 at home after their disappointing results in the regional COSAFA Cup and ouster from the African Cup of Nations qualifications to Angola during this summer.
The last African team to grace AIFF's multi-nation tournament was Cameroon's 'B' side who ran the hosts close in the 2012 Nehry Cup final, only to succumb during the penalty shootout after the match ended two apiece after 120 minutes.
The aim would be something similar, but India who have won thirteen of their last fifteen games will not make life easy for Mauritius.
Kick-off is at 8 PM IST.
Injured: Rehenesh TP, Sumeet Passi
Unavailable: Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
Key Player: Jeje Lalpekhlua
Key Player: Kevin Perticots