The curtain raiser tournament was earlier scheduled to begin Monday but was later deferred for five days and is now set to kick off Saturday
Reigning champion Abahani Limited were placed in the same group with one of the title favourites Sheikh Russel Krira Chakra and Bangladesh Muktijoddha Sangsad Krira Chakra as the draw ceremony of the season opening Federation Cup 2018 was held at BFF House Saturday afternoon.
Former champion Lt. Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club and Mohammedan Sporting Club Limited were pitted in perhaps the toughest group as they have to battle against big-spending Bashundhara Kings in order to make it to the knockout stages.
Independence Cup champion Arambagh Krira Sangha were drawn in the same group with Chittagong Abahani Limited and Rahmatganj Muslim Friends Society while rising powerhouse Saif Sporting Club have a comparatively easier group with Brothers Union and Team BJMC.
The curtain raiser tournament was earlier scheduled to begin Monday but was later deferred for five days and is now set to kick off Saturday. All the matches will be held at Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka. The fixtures however, have not been finalised yet.
The length of the tournament has increased this time around due to the Fifa international friendly window from November 12-20 when Bangladesh are expected to play at least one match.
The quarter-finals are scheduled to end on November 9 while the semi-finals and final are scheduled to be held after the Fifa window.
The contract signing with the title sponsor also took place after the draw as Walton once again came forward to pen the sponsorship deal. The champion and runners-up side will receive Tk5,00,00 and Tk3,00,00 respectively.
Battle for AFC Cup slot
Abahani, also Bangladesh Premier League champion, were the first club from Bangladesh last season to ensure a place in the AFC Cup after emerging as unbeaten champion in the Federation Cup.
The Sky Blues will be favourite again after keeping the squad almost unchanged from last season.
Saif Sporting also competed in the AFC Cup 2018 as the second club but this time, only one team from Bangladesh are likely to get a place, making the Federation Cup campaign more challenging for the clubs aiming for an appearance at the AFC Cup 2019.
Out of 13 clubs, only five clubs – Abahani, Sheikh Russel, Sheikh Jamal, Saif Sporting and Bashundhara – managed to fulfill the AFC club license criteria by the deadline on September 27.
Apart from Sheikh Jamal, the other four teams formed their squad to fight for the title.
Professional league committee chairman Abdus Salam Murshedy hoped for a more competitive season this time.
“It would be disappointing if only one club from Bangladesh play in the AFC Cup while other countries have two slots,” said Abahani manager Satyajit Das Rupu.
He also said it was never easy for them before, and that the club are prepared for the challenge.
Meanwhile, a professional league committee meeting was held after the draw from where it was decided that the number of venues for the upcoming premier league would increase to seven from six.
Newly added Sheikh Jamal Stadium in Faridpur would be the home venue of Sheikh Jamal.