The Dialog Champions League 2016, Sri Lanka’s top flight football competition is set to kick off this weekend, featuring the top 18 teams in the country split into two groups.
Each group will feature 9 teams who will play each other once, with the top 4 of each group qualifying to participate in the Super 8 stage of the tournament.
In this feature we preview the teams that have been drawn into Group A for 2016 DCL.
Just a couple of weeks after clinching the 2016 FA Cup, the soldiers have the form and the momentum to take them through to the Super 8 stage of the tournament.
They qualified as the top team from Group A in 2015 as well and were in the hunt for the championship until the final game of the 2015 edition.
The Army SC team will be keen to complete the double this year and certainly have the players and the capacity to do so. Key players for the soldiers will be midfield engine Sanka Danushka and their forward trio of Mohomed Issadeen, Sajith Kumara and Madhushan De Silva.
Blue Star SC
Since reaching the final of the 2015 FA Cup, the team from Kalutara have not been able to recapture the form that brought them so much success. They qualified second from Group B in the DCL last year but struggled in the Super 8 stage to finish second bottom.
They have a passionate support base and an away fixture at the Vernon Fernando Stadium in Kalutara will be a daunting game for any opposing team. Players to watch out for from Blue Star will be skipper and goalkeeper Manjula Fernando, veteran E.B.Channa and youngster Shifakath Rahuman.
Civil Security SC (Nandimithra SC)
The Civil Security SC had a bright start to their 2015 campaign with 3 wins in 4, but their form at the back end of the group stage let them down as they ultimately finished 7th in Group A.
They are a team known for defensive discipline and teams may struggle to break them down. A mid table finish is more than likely for them this season as well.
Defending Champions of the DCL, Colombo FC are one of the favourites to top the group, having done so in the previous edition as well. Their quick paced play and speedy wingers and forwards will be a threat to all teams in the league.
However they will be minus the MVP from last year’s championship run, Bodrie Dimitri, who has moved to a Malaysian club, while vice-captain AC Frank has returned home to recover from his injuries, which have plagued him for the last 2 years of his career.
The stage is set for the highly rated former Sri Lanka U19 captain and Manchester United trainee Zarwan Johar to shine.
Crystal Palace FC
One of the surprise packages of last years’ edition, Crystal Palace will be hoping to continue their upward journey in the local football arena.
The Gampola based team qualified for the Super 8 and finished in a very respectable 5th position. They feature some of the youngest players in the league and the key to them repeating last year’s showing will be likes of the more experienced Isaac Aba, Mohomed Shifan and Christopher Erastus.
Matara City FC
Only wins in their last two group games against Navy and Thihariya Youth in the 2015 edition kept the team from Matara in the Champions League and they are likely to struggle yet again this season.
Points from matches against Up Country SC, Civil Security SC and Negombo Youth will be key to their survival in the top flight.
Negombo Youth SC
They finished in 6th place in Group B of the 2015 DCL with a record of 4 wins, 4 losses and a draw.
A mid table finish is likely to be on the cards this season as well, unless they have a brilliant campaign.
The 2014 champions were unable to make it past the group stage in last year’s edition and they will be keen to make amends this season for what has been a disappointing year for them following their disqualification in the FA Cup this year as well.
Key to the Anuradhapura based side’s fortunes will be the form of their midfield duo Gnanaruban and Edison Figurado.
Up Country SC
The team from the hills barely stayed up in the 2015 edition and are likely to be involved in another relegation scrap this year as well.
With only 1 win, it was three 0-0 draws against much more fancied opposition (Saunders, Highlanders and Solid) that kept the Lions up last season.
Army and Colombo FC will be the favourites in the group to qualify in first and second positions, with Solid, Crystal Palace and Blue Star likely to fight it out for the remaining 2 spots in qualification.
Blue Star SC v Colombo FC (Week 1)
Blue Star SC vs Crystal Palace FC (Week 5)
Solid SC vs Colombo FC (Week 8)
Army SC vs Colombo FC (Week 9)