When ATK took on Chennaiyin FC in the last Indian Super League (ISL) season’s final, the coronavirus pandemic was just starting to become a frightening reality across the country. Played behind closed doors, the final was one of the last sporting events held in the country before normal life essentially shut down.
Fast forward eight months, ISL will become the first major sporting event in the country to return in our daily life as the action unfolds in Goa starting today (November 20). Once again, there will be no fans with all teams converging in Goa under the protection of a bio-secure bubble. But that won’t be the only thing different about this season.
For starters, the 2020-21 season will be the biggest ISL to date, with the addition of SC East Bengal taking the total number of teams to 11 and the number of matches to 115, up from 95 last season.
East Bengal’s entry and defending champions ATK’s merger with Mohun Bagan mean that two of the oldest names in Indian football will go head-to-head in the ISL for the first time. The much awaited Kolkata Derby in ISL will kick off on November 27 and both players and fans are already looking forward to it.
Fans will be able to see a number of exciting new stars on their TV screens, with the likes of former Reading striker Adam le Fondre and former Newcastle United defender Steven Taylor deciding to make the trip to India.
Others, like last season’s joint top scorer Nerijus Valskis, who has now joined Jamshedpur FC, and India’s rock-at-the-back Sandesh Jhingan, who signed for ATK Mohun Bagan, will exchange their old jerseys for new ones.
And while fans will have to stay at home, the three stadiums hosting matches this season in Goa — Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda, GMC Stadium in Bambolim, and Tilak Maidan in Vasco — will not be devoid of their presence. The innovative ‘fan wall’ concept will see home and away fans cheer on their teams through two LED screens mounted in the stadiums.
Opening game between Kerala and ATK
Two sides with passionate fan base, a famed rivalry, and two squads full of star-studded players masterminded by shrewd tacticians. These will be among the many things to look forward to when Kerala Blasters face ATK Mohun Bagan in the opening match at the GMC Stadium, Bambolim, Goa today.
This is the third consecutive instance of the two sides facing each other in the season-opener. Having won the first two instances, can two-time finalists Kerala Blasters get lucky a third time?
Much has changed since these two last met. For Kerala, there’s an element of uncertainty with Kibu Vicuna replacing Eelco Schattorie as head coach. Vicuna, having steered Mohun Bagan to an I-League triumph last season while playing an attacking brand of football, faces his former employers with a point to prove.
“I will always have good sentiments for Mohun Bagan,” said Vicuna. “I was there for a season and they treated me well. I have a lot of friends there in the board but I’m very happy to be with Kerala Blasters. I’m going to do my best, the people (here) also received me well. I have a good relationship with the members of the club and we’re trying to create a good team who will try to play good football.”
Co-owner of ATK, former India cricket captain Sourav Ganguly, praised the quality of ISL. “The quality of the Hero ISL has improved enormously and only the competitiveness of the league will make it a success. The standard of the overseas players has improved. There are some great players around.”
“It’s for the first time that ATK Mohun Bagan will play in the Hero ISL. I hope we have a good season. I’m a big supporter of our coach (Antonio Lopez Habas). I think he’s got the passion and heart to win the ISL. He has won it a couple of times already,” the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) said on the latest episode of ‘Let’s Football Live’.
Meanwhile, their opponents — defending champions and three-time winners — will start the season as title favourites with Antonio Lopez Habas helming a strengthened squad. “Vicuna did a good job at Mohun Bagan but ISL is a different competition,” Habas said. “I respect him but our idea is to get the three points because we work every day for that.”
With the two Spanish tacticians going head-to-head and with both sides not short of big names, fans can expect a thrilling encounter as football returns amidst the new normal. And with these two rivals always dishing out entertaining fare whenever they’ve met, there’s no better fixture to begin the season with.
ISL live stream in 82 territories
Meanwhile, this season’s ISL will be live streamed in 82 territories across the world through five partners across TV and digital platforms.
Official broadcasting partner Star Network will exclusively telecast ISL matches in India on Star Sports 1 SD & HD, Star Sports 2 SD & HD (English); Star Sports Hindi 1 SD & HD, Star Sports 3, Star Gold 2 (Hindi), Asianet Plus, Asianet Movies (Malayalam); Star Sports Bangla; Star Sports Kannada; Star Sports Tamil; Star Sports Telugu and Star Sports Marathi. Online streaming will be available on Disney+ Hotstar VIP and JioTV.
List of international broadcasters and live streaming partners
ESPN +: USA & Canada
Fox Sports: Australia
1Play Sports (YouTube channel and Facebook page): Singapore, Indonesia (Genflix), Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Brunei, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Hong Kong, Macau
Yupp TV: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Vatican City, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan
Digicel PNG (TVWan Action): Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomons, Samoa, Cook Islands, Vanuatu, American Samoa, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Niue, Tokelau, Tahiti, New Caledonia, Tonga, Nauru
Asianet Plus: Middle East
Jalsha Movies SD: Middle East and Bangladesh
Jalsha Movies HD: Maldives and Bangladesh
ISL 2020-21 full schedule