Opening match of Indian Super Legue season 3, between Northeast United and Kerala Blasters, has kick started after a ceremony full of glitz and glamour at Guwahati’s Indira Gandhi International Stadium. Both Northeast United and Kerala Blasters missed out on qualification to the semi-finals of the league last year and will be eager to go that extra mile this year. While the northeasterns narrowly missed the bus by coming fifth, Kerala Blasters, runner-up of the inaugural edition in 2014, finished with the wooden spoon in the eight-team franchise-based league.
The third edition of the Indian Super League got off to a colourful start with a star-studded opening ceremony even as the fans, wearing their passion for the game on their sleeves. With a host of celebrities from the world of sports and entertainment in attendance, the half-an-hour long ceremony had the spectators at the jam-packed stadium in thrall.
A carnival atmosphere filled the air as the ceremony showcased the cultural diversity and spirit of the eight sisters before familiar foes Northeast United FC and Kerala Blasters resumed their rivalry on the pitch. Besides the cultural part, act 1 also featured a bevy of Bollywood stars gyrating to hindi chartbusters, while all the franchise owners were called on to the stage one by one.
Bollywood heartthrobs Alia Bhatt, Jacqueline Fernandes and Varun Dhawan, along with about 500 performers rocked the stadium in the short, yet spectacular, show. The local flavour was injected by the famed Shillong Chamber Choir who have enthralled audiences across the globe.
Alia, Jacqueline and Varun set the stage ablaze with their scintillating acts and took selfies with ISL founding chairperson Nita Ambani, cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, Indian Olympic silver medallist shuttler P V Sindhu, actors Ranbir Kapoor, John Abraham, Abhishek Bachchan and cricketing ace Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Sindhu performed the ceremonial kick-off.
The franchise-based league will be played across eight cities over the next 11 weeks.
Nita had words of appreciation for the northeast region’s contribution to sport, especially football, in recent years.
“Northeast has been the epicentre for sports in India and it’s always a pleasure to be here. Northeast has produced great sports personalities like MC Mary Kom, Bhaichung Bhutia and now the latest sensation Dipa Karmakar,” Nita said in her address.
She added, “I am pleased to inform that the ISL grassroots initiative has reached 1.3 million children over the last two years. It’s a significant progress and we are committed to continue investing in India’s grasstoots football development.”