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ISL kicks off to a grand start

Guwahati (India) (AFP) – The Indian Super League (ISL) got off to a spectacular start Saturday in the eastern city of Guwahati with the home team winning the opening match in the third season of the the football tournament.

NorthEast United FC beat Kerala Blasters FC 1-0 in the first game of the 56 group matches, that has lured many former international stars to hit the field again. 

The ISL, a franchise-based tournament whose club owners are largely Bollywood film star and cricketers, is one of two domestic leagues in India, aiming to popularise football in the cricket-crazy country.

Japanese Yusa Katsumi scored the solo goal for the home side in the second half of the hard-fought game. 

More than 27,000 spectators watched the glitzy opening ceremony with popular Bollywood actors amid a spectacular pyrotechnic display. 

Celebrities including cricketing greats and Kerala Blasters franchise co-owner Sachin Tendulkar and Chennaiyin FC co-owner Mahendra Singh Dhoni cheered for the competing teams. 

Former international stars including ex-Atletico Madrid player Diego Forlan, Brazilian World Cup winner Lucio and Champions League winner John Arne Riise will be part of the eight-team, 11-week-long football tournament this year.

Mumbai, who have never reached the semis, are favourites to win their first title due to their formidable front line of former Manchester United forward Forlan and India’s all-time top goal-scorer Sunil Chhetri.

FC Goa are looking to go one better after a heart-breaking defeat against Chennaiyin in last year’s final, which ended in a mass brawl. 

Brazilian legend Zico returns as FC Goa’s manager for a third consecutive season, while Italian World Cup winner Gianluca Zambrotta will coach Delhi Dynamos and Englishman Steve Coppell is managing Kerala Blasters.

Former Spanish goalkeeper Jose Francisco Molina is coaching first season winner Atletico de Kolkata, who will play defending champions Chennaiyin on Sunday.

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