Indian Men’s Team To Play Kings Cup, Merdeka Cup Before 2024 Asian Cup: Shaji Prabhakaran

The Indian men’s football team will have a very busy international calendar starting with the Inter-Continental Cup in June till the 2026 World Cup Qualifiers in November and December, AIFF secretary general Shaji Prabhakaran said on Friday.

The Merdeka Cup, a Malaysia-based tournament, which used to be a regular fixture in the senior national team’s calendar from the 1960s to mid-80s, is also back this year alongside another legacy event — Kings Cup in Bangkok.

The All India Football Federation, in a slew of decisions at its Executive Committee meeting, have also decided to bar foreign players from participating in the I-League Division 2 along with prominent state leagues such as Calcutta Football League (CFL), Goa League, federation president Kalyan Chaubey announced during a media interaction in New Delhi.

For women’s football, there is some good news as minimum wage for a player has been set at Rs 3.2 lakh for all those who would be taking part in the Indian Women’s League (IWL).

To a query from PTI as to how the Indian men’s team is preparing for the Asian Cup finals, scheduled early next year, Prabhakaran said: “We are playing Inter-Continental Cup in June followed by SAFF Championship in the same month. The Indian men are then playing Kings Cup in Bangkok followed by Merdeka Cup in October. November-December is time for World Cup qualifiers.”

The secretary general said that there is a plan in place to have a month-long camp before the Asian Cup next year.

“We haven’t yet decided, but we might have a camp for a month,” Prabhakaran said.

However, Indian Super League starts from September and there will be breaks when the Indian team will be on national duty.

About the revival of Merdeka Cup, Chaubey said: “I had a meeting with the president of the Malaysian Football federation. The Merdeka Cup was stopped in 2013. I requested him that if they start the tournament, India would love to participate as it is a very well-known tournament in our part of the world. 

“They are starting the tournament this year and have extended an invitation for India.”

The Calcutta Football League has made many foreign players superstars in the past but the AIFF president said that local leagues having Nigerian strikers doesn’t augur well for Indian football.

“If in I-League division 2 or state leagues (CFL, GFA league) a 5 feet 9-inch boy weighing 65 kilo has to compete against a big-bodied African, he has no chance. We want to create level playing ground.

“You see ISL and there is dearth of Indian strikers. So for development of Indian strikers, we won’t allow foreigners in I-League second division and various state leagues.”

So from now, the likes of Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Mohammedan Sporting and Churchill Brothers will have to play local leagues with homegrown talent.

RoundGlass Punjab, the winner of I-League division one, is working on fulfilling the license criteria for playing the cash-rich Indian Super League next season.

“If they fill up the criteria, they will play as we are starting the promotion from I-League to ISL. However, there will be no relegation as of now,” Chaubey said.

Chaubey also said that the AIFF wants to revive legacy tournaments like the Rovers Cup, Stafford Cup and Bordoloi Trophy.

Currently, AIFF has 198 ‘A’ license holder coaches.

The focus will also be on Youth Development as a group of FIFA’s Talent Development Scheme (TDS) coaches will be arriving on May 3 to work on youth development programme. FIFA TDS is headed by Arsene Wenger, but it wasn’t clarified whether the legendary former Arsenal manager would be present in person.

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