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Reliance Foundation Development League 2023-24 roundup

Muthoot FA were one of the stories of the season, with the academy team battling competition from established entities such as Kerala Blasters FC and Gokulam Kerala FC to finish above them in the Regional Qualifiers.

Reliance Foundation Development League 2023-24 roundup
Punjab FC players celebrate after winning the RFDL final against East Bengal 3-2 at Reliance Corporate Park in Navi Mumbai on May 18, 2024. (Photo credit: RFSM)

Press Release

Updated: 28 May 2024 10:31 AM GMT

The Reliance Foundation Development League (RFDL) got a new champion with Punjab FC winning the 2023-24 season unbeaten by defeating East Bengal FC in the final of the National Championship at the Reliance Corporate Park (RCP) in Mumbai on 18 May.

The Sankarlal Chakraborty-coached team produced a dream run by winning 14 and drawing twice in the 16 games that they played across the Regional Qualifiers, National Group Stages, and the National Championship. It was a thrilling 3-2 affair in the summit clash, but Punjab FC edged past the Red & Gold Brigade to cap off this campaign on a high following a goal each in the second half by Yendrembam Boby Singh and Harmanpreet Singh.

Here’s a brief overview of how the season transpired for the four contenders who made it to the National Championship, and also the major individual award winners.

Punjab FC

As aforementioned, Punjab FC were impeccable right throughout the season, finishing atop the standings in the North Zone Regional Qualifiers by accumulating 28 points from 10 games. The National Group Stage saw them garner 10 points from four games, and they beat Bengaluru FC in penalties to qualify for the final after a goalless draw in the regulation time of the semi-final.

“There was a certain maturity in the way Punjab FC played their game. The presence of a few senior team players helped them. It’s not easy to defeat Bengaluru FC, who have one of the best youth teams in the country and also a coach who has proven himself for the Indian youth teams in Bibiano Fernandes,” Hyderabad FC head coach Thangboi Singto praised Punjab FC during the tournament.

East Bengal FC

For East Bengal FC, the biggest challenge, as enumerated by their coach Bino George, was breaking out of their group in the Regional Qualifiers that had the presence of three other ISL clubs like Mohun Bagan Super Giant, Odisha FC, and Jamshedpur FC, and also the I-League winners Mohammedan SC. In the National Group Stage, they bagged nine points from four games, and beat Muthoot FA 4-2 in penalties after a 3-3 draw in the semi-final. Their relentless spirit during the final had them in the driving seat for a major chunk of the game.

Muthoot FA

Muthoot FA were one of the stories of the season, with the academy team battling competition from established entities such as Kerala Blasters FC and Gokulam Kerala FC to finish above them in the Regional Qualifiers. The National Group Stage saw them overcoming the likes of Roots FC and FC Goa to make it to the National Championship. They held their nerves to beat Bengaluru FC in penalties during the third-place playoffs and are surely one of the teams to watch out for in the long run.

“For Bengaluru FC, they were the defending champions, but you saw the way Muthoot FA played and the competitiveness was such that the match went down to the penalties. I am expecting the game to be more competitive and for the level of football to keep on growing next year. I am looking forward to the next season again,” former India player Gouramangi Singh said.

Bengaluru FC

Bengaluru FC were eyeing their third straight RFDL championship win but consecutive defeats in the National Championship to Punjab FC and Muthoot FA dented their hopes. They had collected 22 points from the 10 games in the Regional Qualifiers and 10 from four encounters in the National Group Stage. However, their loss in penalties in the final stage of the season would be something the Blues will want to work on moving forward.

Overall Season Review

RFDL 2023-24 was privy to the participation of 57 teams from eight different zones that battled it out in the Regional Qualifiers in a group-stage format. Then, 20 teams qualified for the National Group Stage, which was played across four cities in groups of five each. Four sides, i.e. the aforementioned ones, made it to the hotly-contested National Championship that was played in Mumbai. The objective of the league was to bridge the gap between the reserve and first teams of clubs across the Indian footballing landscape and it harnessed that by providing competitive playing time to emerging players, with a total of 293 matches taking place in the third season of this elite U-21 youth level tournament. The Reliance Foundation Development League (RFDL) 2023-24 final between Punjab FC and East Bengal FC was the competition’s highest ever match with 88,000 viewers.

Individual Award Winners

Golden Boot – Omang Dodum (Punjab FC)

The 16-year-old Punjab FC striker, Omang Dodum, netted 14 times to walk away with the Golden Boot award. A majority of those strikes, i.e. 12, came in the Regional Qualifiers. He was a thorough team player throughout the tournament, interlinking seamlessly with his fellow forwards and playing to the strengths of the team to emerge victorious eventually.

Golden Ball – Muhammad Suhail F (Punjab FC)

Muhammad Suhail was the creator-in-chief of the Punjab FC set up. He operated in pockets of spaces in the final third, delivering key passes to the forwards in goal-scoring positions. His contributions in the midfield couldn’t be overlooked either. The Punjab FC unit operated as seamless machinery and Suhail was a vital cog in the same, earning him the honour of the best player of the tournament.

Golden Glove – Sujay S (Roots FC)

The Roots FC goalkeeper was awarded the Golden Glove, which typically goes to the best goalkeeper in the tournament, the one who keeps the most clean sheets. The entire Roots FC defensive unit deserves praise for that though, as they gave only seven goals in the 10 matches of their Regional Qualifiers and kept a clean sheet in each of their four fixtures in the National Group Stage, giving away no goals and scoring five times.

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