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AIFF is under pressure

New Delhi: The longstanding club versus country debate once again raised its head on Tuesday when East Bengal and Churchill Brothers asked the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to release players from the national camp for their AFC Cup campaign.

While East Bengal made a verbal request, the Goa team sent a letter to the federation to arrange for their players’ return from the national camp on Sunday.

The schedule for the AFC Club Cup and AFC Challenge Cup has created the confusion. While India’s opening match in the AFC Challenge Cup is against Chinese Taipei on March 2 in Myanmar, Churchill and East Bengal are set to play in AFC Cup on February 26 and 27, respectively.

Churchill will play Kitchee SC at Hong Kong and East Bengal will meet Malaysia’s Selangor in Calcutta. Meanwhile, national coach Wim Koevermans, who has started his camp in Pune on Tuesday, is planning to take the team to Myanmar on February 26.

“The prestige of the country will also be involved when we play the AFC Cup,” said East Bengal official Debabrata Sarkar. “How can we play without Arnab Mondal or Mehtab Hossain,” he asked. Two other East Bengal players — Raju Gaekwad and Robin Singh are also in the camp.

Churchill, who have three players in the national camp — Sandip Nandy, Denzil Franco and Lenny Rodrigues — wrote to AIFF saying the national body should withdraw Churchill’s participation from the AFC Cup if their players were not released.