The 2020 I-League qualifiers are set to begin in West Bengal on Thursday as the country gets ready to welcome back sports amid the Coronavirus pandemic.
Bhawanipore FC will be the first to take the pitch against Bengaluru United at 12:30 pm IST and the opener will be played at the Salt Lake stadium.
The Kolkata-based side's head coach Sankarlal Chakraborty is delighted to welcome back football after a break of over five months.
"We knew from the beginning that there won't be fans. The fact that football is starting is more important for now," said the former Mohun Bagan coach via a virtual press conference on Wednesday.
"Teams don't want to lose but no one can say 'we will be champions'. We have prepared well. Three of our players are missing due to Coronavirus. I think we can qualify. I am happy with our squad and I'm happy with our preparations," he added.
Bhawanipore captain, Shilton Paul - who has joined the team on loan from Churchill Brothers - promised to make the best use of his vast senior team experience to help his side.
"There's nothing to prove for me. Each and every tournament is important to me. We (Bhawanipore) have a very good team with a mix of senior and junior players. I will try my best to use my experience so that we qualify for the I-League," he insisted.
Meanwhile, Bengaluru United head coach Richard Hood's only concern remains the weather conditions in Kolkata. "I think the first game will definitely test us because it's a noon kick-off. We are hoping that the weather is our favour in terms of having some kind of cloud cover or rain as well but we will adapt in case the heat and humidity get out of control. We have had good preparation in Bengaluru but we have to assess how it works out in Kolkata."
The second fixture of the opening day will see Kolkatan giants Mohammedan Sporting face Delhi-based Garhwal FC. The match kicks off at 4.30 pm IST at the Kalyani Stadium.
Ahead of their first qualifier, Garhwal FC head coach Vikas Rawat commented, "I respect all the teams equally. Teams like Mohammedan and Bengaluru have got their own legacy and just because we are a young side, it doesn't make much of a difference for me."
Having made the switch from Minerva Punjab, Mohammedan SC head coach Yan Law feels the onus is on his side to seal qualification for the upcoming I-League season which could kickstart in December.
"This year, the club management and the players are going all out. The main pressure now is that currently there is no team from Bengal in the I-League. I know that Mohammedan Sporting adds a lot of value to the I-League and that is the pressure that we have.
"People are banking on us to fill up that spot. Even East Bengal and Mohun Bagan supporters want us in the I-League. So it's a wonderful feeling to have. Hope we qualify and give the fans what they deserve," he stated.