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Chandigarh » Sports

Posted at: Dec 12, 2016, 1:48 AM; last updated: Dec 12, 2016, 1:48 AM (IST)

Minerva FC to debut in 2017 I-League

International players happy; to become second club from region after JCT to feature in the league
Minerva FC to debut in 2017 I-League
The Minerva FC squad at their home ground in Sector 17 football stadium. Tribune Photo

Deepankar Sharda

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 11

Gifting a boon to the region’s footballers, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has allowed Minerva Punjab FC — known as Minerva Football Club till recently — to feature in the 2017 edition of the I-League Championship. 

The next season of the league is scheduled to start on January 7 and Minerva Punjab FC will host all its home matches at the Guru Nanak Stadium, Ludhiana. The club, which has been hogging the limelight in the junior circuit, was the only ray of hope for the region’s footballers after the shutdown of the JCT Mills Club.

After JCT Club, which won the I-League in 1996-97, Minerva will be the first club from this region to compete in this premier division.

The dearth of professional clubs in this region has affected the life of senior level players and many of them have been forced to shift their base to other cities of India. 

The pullout of popular clubs Salgaocar, Sporting Clube-de-Goa and Dempo SC from the I-League has led to Minerva Punjab FC getting accommodated in the 2017 I-League.

“This is a golden opportunity for the region’s players. This will set a new trend of reviving football in Punjab and in the major cities of the region,” said Surinder Singh, head coach of Minerva FC. 

“Many of our players are playing in other cities and are doing exceptionally well. We will try to bring them all under one roof and debut for us in the I-League," he added. "It is going to be a big challenge for us but we are lucky to get this opportunity.”

Five bids for I-League

The AIFF bid evaluation committee evaluated five bids submitted by the Neroca FC, Minerva Punjab FC, Sudeva FC, FC Bardez Goa and Chennai City FC. After the review process, the committee gave a green signal to Chennai City FC and Minerva Punjab FC on Sunday.

“I congratulate the management of Minerva FC. They have got the responsibility of nurturing the players’ future and we all will support them in this noble cause,” said Harjinder Singh, former international. “There was an immediate need of such a boost for the football fraternity of the region. I am happy to see the development and wish that this push would bring positivity back here.”

“We finished as the runners-up of I-League second division but surprisingly, we were denied the I-League spot after champions Dempo SC pulled out from the top tier,” said Ranjit Bajaj, CEO of the club. "But an official statement from AIFF finally confirmed our entry and left us all elated. We will try to field the best of our talents and give most of the opportunities to our region's players to impress everyone in our debut."

Meanwhile, local lad and Indian goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu said he is delighted to see a team from his hometown entering the I-League. 

“Football in Punjab and Chandigarh has a new face now. I am very happy for them," said Sandhu. “They have worked relentlessly to get this opportunity. This is very important for football in the region.” 

Chandigarh's Sandesh Jhingan, playing for Kerala Blasters in the ISL, was also delighted with the development. He congratulated the region's players and the club management for this development. “Not only Chandigarh's players but players of the entire region have got a new lifeline,” said Jhingan.

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