Bhubaneshwar: The country's premier knock-out football tournament, Super Cup, was on Friday thrown into jeopardy after Minerva Punjab did not turn up for the first match of the qualification round, prompting the national federation to describe it as a "crazy" and "unacceptable" move.
A cloud of uncertainty had already hung over tournament after eight I-League clubs decided to pull out, citing unfair treatment by the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
But interestingly, three of the eight protesting clubs — Minerva, Gokulam Kerala and Aizawl FC — which were to play in the qualification round (on 15 and 16 March) had come here with their full strength teams.
Minerva did not turn for the mandatory pre-match press conference on Thursday and the Punjab side also did not take the field on Friday against Indian Super League side FC Pune City.
Gokulam and Aizawl, who are to play on Saturday against Delhi Dynamos and Chennaiyin FC respectively under the schedule, did not turn up for pre-match press conference on Friday. Aizawl FC said that they will not play against Chennaiyin FC on Saturday.
"As of now, we are not going to play against Chennaiyin on Saturday. Nothing has come from the side of the AIFF and it seems nothing is going to happen also. We (eight clubs) will remain united and we will take a collective decision," Aizawl FC's Technical Director and Team Manager D Hmingthana said.
AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das said Minerva's decision to boycott the match would harm the game in the country.
"There may be differences (with the clubs and the AIFF) but to boycott a football match because of the differences is crazy and not acceptable. It is not a right move and will harm football in the country," Das told PTI.
"I would encourage the clubs to compete in the tournament for the sake of football in the country," he added.
Das, however, appeared to be leaving some room for a rapprochement between the AIFF and the clubs.
Asked if action will be taken against Minerva or any other team which does not turn up for the Super Cup, Das said, "As of now, we are not talking about action but we believe better sense will prevail and the clubs will play football."
He also did not give a direct reply when asked if Minerva will be declared to have forfeited the match against Pune City FC.
"Whatever is provided under the tournament (Super Cup) rules will be applied," he said.
An AIFF source said that the match commissioner is yet to decide on the status of the Minerva vs Pune City game, whether it's "cancelled or called called off."
The eight clubs had pointed out that the I-League teams are being neglected in all aspects by the country's football federation.
The clubs said it had written a letter to the AIFF in February regarding multiple concerns such as the future of the league but they are "yet to hear back" from the federation.
Minerva also highlighted how the AIFF has "not provided any financial assistance to the participating teams" despite having a title sponsor for the event. With no AFC berth also on offer, the club felt the competition lacked any incentive for the teams.
The Super Cup is a knockout tournament hosted by the AIFF where top six teams each from the I-League and ISL gets a direct qualification to the main round while the lower-ranked four sides from both the leagues play in the qualification round.
The main round will be held between 29 March and 13 April.
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Updated Date: Mar 15, 2019 20:39:40 IST