Defending champions Aizawl FC will open their 2017-18 I-League campaign away against East Bengal on November 28, in a rematch of the first game for both clubs in 2016, according to the fixtures released on Tuesday by the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
This will be the first season that both the Indian Super League (ISL) and I-League will run concurrently, with the ISL set to kick off in Kochi on November 17.
Minerva Punjab will host Mohun Bagan in Ludhiana on November 25 in the first match of the season, scheduled for a 2pm kick-off. Newcomers Gokulam Kerala play their first match away to Shillong Lajong the following day, while Manipur-based NEROCA FC will make their I-League debut away against Minerva Punjab on December 1.
I-League CEO Sunando Dhar told ESPN that all 90 games are likely to be covered by broadcasters Star, and that the final schedule was prepared by Star. "The intention was weekend games only, but there are some weekday 2 pm games also. Those were the only available slots for the broadcasters," said Dhar.
The third new club, a team comprising the best India U-17 and U-19 players dubbed the Indian Arrows, are slated to begin their campaign with a home game against Chennai City FC, though the AIFF is yet to confirm the date, kick-off time and venue for this match. The AIFF has also not fixed any date on the last six matches of the season, possibly with a view to ensuring simultaneous kick-offs for a few games if the title chase and relegation battles necessitate so.
The first Kolkata derby of the season will see Mohun Bagan hosting East Bengal at the Salt Lake Stadium on December 3, while there will be six north-east derbies this season involving Lajong, Aizawl and NEROCA. Defending champions Aizawl host Lajong in the first such derby at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium on December 18.
While ISL's 90 league matches will include 47 played exclusively over the weekends, just 33 of I-League's 82 fixtures that have had their dates announced will be played over the weekend. The ISL has also maintained its kick-off timing of 8 pm for all games except the first match of Sunday double-headers, that will start at 5:30 pm. I-League, in contrast, will have 39 matches kicking off at 2 pm, and a further 24 matches with 5:30 pm kick-offs.