A revamped Indian Super League (ISL) is here to cap off an incredible year for Indian football. 2017 witnessed the Indian senior national team break into the top 100 of the FIFA world rankings for the first time in over 20 years. In October, the South Asian nation hosted the Under-17 World Cup - the first-ever FIFA competition hosted by India.
The fourth edition of ISL kicks off on November 17 with defending champions ATK taking on Kerala Blasters. The league has come a long way in the four years since 2014 - from competing with I-League for the spot of the top-tier domestic football competition to a four-month-long league with Asian Football Confederation (AFC) recognition.
Here's all you need to know about the latest version of ISL.
Longer league format
The 2017 edition is going to be the longest season of ISL till date due to the inclusion of two more teams: Bengaluru FC and Jamshedpur FC. The earlier seasons of ISL ran for three months, while the new season will run for four months, from mid-November to mid-March.
10 teams. 1 trophy. Get ready for the biggest #HeroISL season yet!C'mon India, #LetsFootball! pic.twitter.com/vTyupcSXL7— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) November 16, 2017
With the addition of new teams, the total tally has now gone up to 10 teams. As a result, over thirty matches have been added to the fixtures list. All the teams will play each other on a home-and-away basis and the top four will qualify for the finals.
With a longer season, teams are expected to try out more new strategies and the players will have more time to recover.
Focus on Indian players
This is a condition which should help Indian football - the focus during this season will be on Indian players rather than foreign recruits. From this season, ISL teams can only field five foreign players at one time, from six in previous seasons. This means six Indian players will always be on the pitch.
The league has earlier witnessed participation of players like Alessandro Del Piero, Roberto Carlos and Diego Forlan as clubs were required to sign a marquee player, but that rule has been dropped for this season, thus providing larger responsibility to Indian players.
It's just not the silverware or the prize money at stake in the upcoming ISL season. The teams can now also eye the AFC Cup as they will be India's representative in the continental tournament.
CONFIRMED: ISL to Replace Fed Cup. Winner will get direct Slot to AFC Cup Games.I-League Winner to Play AFC Champions League Play-Off Rd. pic.twitter.com/LwhHHCyenP— Indian Football-WC (@IFTWC) July 25, 2017
The I-League winner will earn a spot in AFC Champions League. They will get an entry to the first preliminary round of the qualifying playoffs.
The League was launched with an idea to popularise and develop the sport in India. And now with more teams, longer format and focus on home-grown players, it has everything it requires to sustain the interest generated by the U-17 World Cup.
Indeed an exciting time to be a football fan in India.
Feature image: AFP