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What AIFF should note while copying ‘closed league’ format of MLS, A-League

Jaydeep Basu

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The ISL has no system of relegation and promotion. Photos: @ISL, ussoccerplayers.com, a-league.com.au

New Delhi: In the mid-60s of the last century, the Bengal soccer body, IFA, suddenly decided to do away with the promotion-relegation system in the Kolkata first division league. Rumours were rife that the sole motive was to save a struggling side. The club did not have enough good players, but had an all-powerful official.

Thankfully, sanity prevailed next season and promotion-relegation was restored.

A club-based soccer league stands somewhat meaningless without promotion-relegation. In the top tier, the fear of relegation keeps the players on their toes. They fight till the last breath. Without it, footballers may develop carefree attitude. The club management can turn indifferent. There is an increasing chance of match fixing and betting.

But there are times when one needs to run a closed league. With a definite plan and purpose in mind. Currently, India’s top league is a 10-team franchise meet without promotion or relegation. All India Football Federation (AIFF) officials say the need of the hour is to strengthen the structure first. In support, they often cite example of A-League and Major League Soccer (MLS).

They are not far from the truth. Out of most popular 25 leagues across the globe, A-League and MLS are perhaps the only two without promotion and relegation. They have their own reasons.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (left, standing) is the biggest name to play n the MLS.

A-League is not a one-nation league. It is played by 11 teams, 10 from Australia and one from neighbouring nation, New Zealand. It began in 2005 after Aussie National Soccer League (NSL) was closed down. NSL was like India’s I-League. Having started in 1974, NSL, by the end of 20th century, was proving to be a dying product.

But NSL clubs were not choked to death. Neither was told to play without a purpose for two or three more seasons. The Australian Federal Government set up an independent review committee. The committee’s report said it was sunset time for NSL. It was folded up for good at the end of 2004 season.

The formation of A-League clubs was no clandestine affair. Bidding for clubs was a long and tedious process. By 2004 June, 20 submissions were received. A month later 12 of them sent their final bids. After three months of review, eight teams were selected.

Not all NSL clubs were shooed away. Three of the eight teams, Adelaide United, Newcastle Jets and Perth Glory were from NLS. Two other NSL outfits were renamed before they joined the fray. Currently 11 teams play in the A-League.

Like A-League, MLS too is a two-nation meet. It has 24 teams, 21 from the United States and three from Canada. It began with 10 teams and proved a disaster until more teams were added.

MLS has no promotion/relegation system but regularly adds teams to expand the league. It plans to add three more teams next season and make it a 30-team league very soon.

Melbourne Victory are the defending A-League champions.

Well, A-League and MLS are two different competitions. From different continents. It will be unfair to draw parallel with current Indian scenario. Yet, after going through the much-talked about the FIFA-AFC report on a unified league in India (The Sustainable Development of Top Level Indian Club Football – A Road Map, 2018) one may find out a few similarities.

The A-League was formed and structured as per recommendations of an independent review committee of Australian Federal Government. The FIFA-AFC report on India suggests in order to have a single national league, “we recommend that the detail is addressed through a League Transition Commission, to be established by the AIFF with independent external experts appointed by AFC and FIFA.”

Like it happens in MLS, the FIFA-AFC report also talks about increasing the number of teams gradually in top tier, now the franchise league. In short, the report said the number should be increased to 16 teams by the end of 2021-22 or 2022-23. The promotion-relegation could be started thereafter.

There are some other sustainable recommendations in the report. But no point discussing them. AIFF clearly said it was in no position to implement it.

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India thump Bahrain for 2nd big win in AFC U-16 Championships qualifiers

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India U-16 football

Tashkent: India continued its impressive show in the AFC U-16 Championship Qualifiers by thrashing Bahrain 5-0 to notch up its second big win in the tournament here on Friday.

Striker Sridarth and winger Shubho Paul were the star performers of the Indian team as they scored a brace each, while Bahrain keeper Mohamed Hasan Jaafar conceded an own goal in the first half.

The India U-16 boys had beaten Turkmenistan 5-0 in their opening match on Wednesday.

The Indians got the early goal they were looking for through striker Sridarth in the fourth minute when he beat the offside trap and was played through by Yoihenba.

India kept knocking on the doors of Bahrain goal and got its second through opposition goalkeeper Mohamed Hasan Jaafar, who spilled a cross from Pritam Meetei into his own net in the 25th minute.

Sridarth was on form again as he made an entry into the Bahrain box, and slipped it past the keeper to make it three in the 27th minute.

Shubho Paul made it four on the stroke of half-time. He made an interception inside the Bahrain area, dummied an opposition defender and planted the ball into the bottom corner of the net.

It was an even contest in the second half but the damage was already done. India coach Bibiano Fernandes then brought in Himanshu Jangra on for Sibajit Singh, while he opted to go with the hard-working Ratanbi in place of Taison Singh.

Meanwhile, Isac Zomuanpuia came on for Sridarth to add some variation to the set-pieces.

With less than 20 minutes of regulation time to go, Shubho scored the fifth goal for India in the 73rd minute as hit the net after Bahrain goalkeeper spilled the ball yet again.

With this win, India now move on to six points in the group with 10 goals to its kitty.

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Man United, Arsenal begin Europa League campaign with victories

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Arsenal
Arsenal players celebrate their victory on Thursday.

London: Last season’s runners-up Arsenal romped to a 3-0 victory at Eintracht Frankfurt in their Europa League opener while Mason Greenwood spared Manchester United’s blushes and Rangers got the better of Feyenoord.

Unai Emery’s enjoyed the best result of all with youngsters Joe Willock and Bukayo Saka scoring in Germany.

In between, Dominik Kohr was sent off for last season’s beaten semi-finalists Frankfurt, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang made sure of the win for Arsenal in the Group F clash.

Their next game will be at home to Standard Liege, who beat Vitoria Guimaraes 2-0 on Thursday.

At Old Trafford, United had teenager Greenwood to thank as the 17-year-old’s goal gave them a 1-0 win over Astana of Kazakhstan in Group L.

Greenwood became the youngest goalscorer for United in European competition with a composed finish 17 minutes from time.

Victory justified Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s decision to make nine changes from Saturday’s Premier League win over Leicester City with a host of youngsters given their chance to impress.

The group’s other game saw AZ Alkmaar come from behind to draw 2-2 with Partizan Belgrade in Serbia despite playing more than an hour with 10 men.

Wolverhampton Wanderers were unable to make it three wins out of three for Premier League clubs as they slumped to a 1-0 home defeat against Braga at Molineux.

Ricardo Horta’s second-half goal gave the Portuguese club all three points in Group K and it was a disappointing night for a Wolves team who are still without a win in the Premier League this season.

In the same group Slovan Bratislava were 4-2 winners at home to Besiktas, who welcome Wolves to Istanbul in a fortnight.

Celtic held

Meanwhile, Steven Gerrard’s Rangers started in fine fashion as they edged out Feyenoord 1-0 at Ibrox in Group G with Sheyi Ojo scoring the only goal of the game midway through the first half.

James Tavernier missed a penalty before that for the Glasgow side on an emotional night as a minute’s silence was held in memory of Fernando Ricksen. The former Rangers and Netherlands defender died aged 43 on Wednesday after a long battle with motor neurone disease.

It is an ideal start for Rangers in a tough group and their next match will be away in Switzerland against Young Boys, who lost 2-1 at Porto on Thursday with Tiquinho netting twice for the hosts.

Celtic battled to a 1-1 draw with Rennes in France in a fiery Group E encounter, with Ryan Christie’s second-half penalty cancelling out M’Baye Niang’s 38th-minute spot-kick for the hosts before the visitors had Vakoun Issouf Bayo sent off at the death.

They now host CFR Cluj, the same side who eliminated them in Champions League qualifying. The Romanians shocked Lazio 2-1 on Thursday.

Elsewhere, Sevilla, who won the Europa League three years running from 2014 to 2016, beat Qarabag 3-0 in Azerbaijan in Group A with Javier Hernandez getting their opening goal.

PSV Eindhoven opened up Group D with a 3-2 victory against Sporting Lisbon while Roma crushed Istanbul Basaksehir 4-0 in Group J.

In the same group Borussia Moenchengladbach were stunned by Wolfsberg, losing 4-0 at home to the unheralded Austrian side who were making their group-stage debut.

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Di Maria-led PSG humble Real Madrid, Juve held by Atletico in Champions League

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PSG

Paris: Angel Di Maria was hailed as “exceptional” after scoring twice against his former club as Paris Saint-Germain shrugged off the absences of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe and thrashed Real Madrid 3-0 on Wednesday to get off to the perfect start in the Champions League.

Di Maria beat Real goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois at his near post to put PSG ahead in the 14th minute at the Parc des Princes, but it was his second goal just after the half-hour that really lit up this encounter.

The Argentine, who starred for Real for four years and won the Champions League with them in 2014 before moving to Manchester United, gave Courtois no chance with a left-footed shot from 20 yards out that arrowed into the corner.today’s sports news

Thomas Meunier added the gloss at the death but it was Di Maria who had cleared the way, stepping into the gap left by the injured Mbappe and Edinson Cavani as well as suspended Neymar.

These two clubs are trying to recover some of their lustre after disappointing campaigns in Europe last season, but for PSG this result is a measure of revenge for their defeat at the hands of Real in the last 16 the previous year.

They remain unbeaten at home in the Champions League group stage since 2004 and they are already in control of Group A before facing Galatasaray and Club Brugge, who drew 0-0 on Wednesday.

They had a Gareth Bale goal disallowed for handball after a VAR review just after going two behind, while Eden Hazard struggled to make an impact on his first start since his move from Chelsea.

Madrid were also handicapped by the absences of Sergio Ramos, Nacho and Marcelo in defence as well as Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric in midfield.

PSG, confusingly wearing white while the visitors wore dark blue, opened the scoring in the 14th minute when Di Maria latched onto a Juan Bernat cutback from the left byline and fired in.

Hazard shot just wide at the other end moments later and Bale curled a free-kick over the bar from the edge of the area. Just after that, in the 33rd minute, Di Maria took a touch and smashed a shot into the right-hand corner to make it 2-0.

Then came Bale’s disallowed goal, and the Welshman came close again in first-half stoppage time, yet the Spanish giants created little in the second half apart from a Karim Benzema goal that was ruled out for offside.

Hazard, meanwhile, departed 20 minutes from time having failed to make his mark, and PSG scored again in stoppage time, Meunier exchanging passes with Bernat before finishing.

Both sides should still make it through but for now it is PSG, six months on from their horror show against Manchester United, who have more reason to be optimistic. Especially with so much firepower still to return.

Herrera gabs late point for Atletico

Hector Herrera grabbed a dramatic point on his Atletico Madrid debut with a late header that saw his side come back from two goals down to draw 2-2 in their Champions League opener against Juventus on Wednesday.

Herrera came off the bench to crash home Kieran Tripper’s last-minute corner and complete the comeback after Juve had gone ahead through Juan Cuadrado’s superb strike seconds after the break and a bullet header from Blaise Matuidi on 65 minutes.

Stefan Savic gave the home fans hope when he pulled one back for Atletico five minutes after Frenchman Matuidi had doubled the away side’s lead.

Manchester City made a flying start to their campaign with a 3-0 win against Shakhtar Donetsk. Robert Lewandowski scored as Bayern Munich eased to a 3-0 win over Red Star Belgrade while Tottenham let a two-goal lead slip to draw 2-2 away to Olympiakos.

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