Sachin Tendulkar's Kerala Blasters take on Sourav Ganguly's Atlético de Kolkata in the Indian Super League (ISL) final at the D.Y. Patil Stadium in Mumbai later today.
Both teams have had standout players.
Kolkata's goalkeeper Apoula Edel is in great form, and came to the rescue of the team in the semifinals. Arnab Mandal has paired up well with Josemi, former winner of the UEFA Champions League in 2004-05 with Liverpool. In the midfield, Borja Fernández has the ability to stop rival moves, and feed the forward line led by marquee signing Luis Garcia, another former Champions League winner.
But Kolkata will miss Ethiopian striker Fikru Lemessa, who is out injured. Also, Garcia has a hamstring issue and is a doubtful starter. That surely depletes Kolkata's ability to score.
Kerala have their own share of quality players. Colin Falvey, on loan from Charleston Battery, is solid in defence. Stephen Pearson will be a constant threat to Kolkata defence, and he made a mark in the semifinals. Sandesh Jingham has been good in defence, and is among the most promising players to come up in this edition of ISL.
Kerala will also miss players who have done well for them in earlier games. Gary McAllister will be missed in the midfield as he is out for a booking in the last game. Cédric Hengbart defended solidly the last time these two teams met, but is out injured.
More viewers tuned in to watch ISL than the English Premier League in India. Viewership went down after the first game, but it still stayed strong considering the relatively lower popularity of football in India, where cricket rules. Having marquee names such as Alessandro Del Piero and Nicolas Anelka helped get fans onboard. The promoters of ISL, a joint venture between Reliance Industries and IMG, hope to raise the standards of Indian football so that India qualify for the FIFA World Cup in 2026. That's a pretty ambitious goal given that the national team currently languishes at 159 in world rankings.
Fans of cricket are interested in ISL, thanks to the presence of two big stars. Atlético de Kolkata is co-owned by Atlético Madrid and Sourav Ganguly, while Kerala Blasters is owned by Sachin Tendulkar. The left-right handed duo batted together 136 times as opening batsmen, and scored a mind-boggling 6,609 runs as openers, making them the most successful pair in one-dayers for India. In this edition, they will be rivals but watching from the stands, hoping their team wins the inaugural ISL. Both have been active on Twitter, and 'sachin vs sourav' was a top trending hashtag.