The focus will be on the local forwards who will get the opportunity to prove their attacking ability in the absence of the foreign players as the Independence Cup is all set to kick off with the opening match between holder Chittagong Abahani Limited and newcomer Saif Sporting Club Tuesday.
The inaugural game of the third and last professional tournament of the 2016-17 season will kick off at Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka at 3:30pm while Brothers Union will take on recently-relegated Farashganj Sporting Club in the second match at the same venue at 5:45pm.
In a bid to give the local players more playing options, the BFF earlier made the participation of the foreign footballers ineligible for the tournament which would practically increase the game-time of the local strikers.
The pre-tournament press conference as well as the logo-unveiling ceremony of the tournament were held at BFF House Monday afternoon where the representatives of all participating teams except Lt. Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club and Farashganj were present. With the exception of Brothers manager Amer Khan, the rest of the club officials welcomed the challenge of playing with no foreign players.
Six-time professional league winner Dhaka Abahani Limited, who will begin their campaign against Team BJMC Wednesday, will surely be the favourite after winning the double this season. Since the introduction of the professional league in 2007, the only professional trophy Abahani have failed to lift is the Independence Cup while only Sheikh Russel Krira Chaka managed to win the treble four seasons ago. Abahani football manager Satyajit Das Rupu said the Sky Blues always play for the title and that his players are motivated to achieve the treble.
"Good to see the local players would get more opportunity. The clubs with the best local players will have better chance to win," said Rupu, mentioning young local forwards like Saad Uddin, Nabib Newaj Jibon and Rubel Mia would fill the vacancies of Sunday Chizoba and Emeka Darlington, among others. He also added the name of versatile experienced defender Nasir Uddin Chowdury as an option for the forward line as well.
Also read: Ctg Abahani, Saif drawn together in Independence Cup
Chittagong Abahani won their first ever professional title last season with the Independence Cup trophy but this time around, the port-city outfit face an unusual challenge as eight of their regular players joined Saif Sporting on loan for the AFC Cup. These players may have to play for Chiitagong Abahani in the Independence Cup and for Saif Sporting in the AFC Cup within a week.
Admitting the “bad impact”, Chittagong Abahani head coach Zulfiker Mahmud Mintu said his players are very much tired physically and mentally after a long season, reminding that their camp began on January 25 last year. He wants to emphasis on “self-realisation and self-assessment” of the players as well as to introduce new talents for the tournament.
Managed by the same owner, both Chittagong Abahani and Saif Sporting were placed in the same Group D along with Arambagh Krira Sangha. Saif Sporting also loaned in Arambagh head coach Maruful Haque for the AFC Cup, with the first pre-qualifying home match scheduled for next Tuesday. Saif Sporting general secretary Mahbubur Rahman Suman said their concentration will be on both the events. They want to move ahead match by match in the Independence Cup.
Sheikh Russel head coach Shafiqul Islam Manik believes that giving chances to local players would have a positive effect in the national team and informed that their target is to reach the semi-final.
Mohammedan Sporting Club Limited coach Rashed Pappu praised his local players and said they are ready to take the field.
Brothers manager Amer said their biggest obstacle this season has been lots of “unscheduled breaks” during the over-lengthy premier league, which forced the below-average clubs like themselves fail to maintain a decent squad for a long time now.
Meanwhile, the BFF revealed an incomplete fixture of the tournament Friday where the dates of the two quarter-finals and grand finale are yet to be confirmed, considering Saif Sporting's participation in the AFC Cup's preliminary stage.