RFDL’s National Championship Preview: A Heated Battle as Football’s Brightest Stars Vie for Title Win in the Final Four Showdown 

The National Championship of the elite U-21 youth tournament, the Reliance Foundation Development League (RFDL) begins on May 14, Tuesday, with four teams, i.e. defending champions Bengaluru FC, Muthoot FA, East Bengal FC, and Punjab FC competing across two semi-finals for a berth in the summit clash of the third season of the competition that will be held on May 18, Saturday at the Reliance Corporate Park (RCP) in Mumbai

RFDL 2023-24 saw participation of 57 teams from across the country that battled it through the Regional Qualifiers held in eight regions and then the National Group Stage that took place in four venues to qualify for the final round of the competition. The Blues are chasing their third straight title, whereas it is the first time that Muthoot FA, East Bengal FC, and Punjab FC have made it to the National Championship of the elite U-21 youth tournament. 

Here is a brief rundown of their journey in RFDL 2023-24 so far and what rests ahead for them in the remaining week of the competition. 

Bengaluru FC 

Bengaluru FC topped the South Zone Regional Qualifiers table by securing 22 points from 10 matches with the help of seven victories and a solitary draw, ahead of the second-placed Roots FC by a good three points. They were again placed atop Group A in the National Group Stage in Mumbai, winning thrice and drawing once in their four games to accumulate 10 points and edge past the second-placed Reliance Foundation Young Champs (RFYC) to book a berth in the National Championship. 

The Blues are coached by former India U-23 national team head coach Bibiano Fernandes, who denies that they are under any sort of pressure right now being the defending champions. “There is no pressure or nervousness. Bengaluru FC is not delving into the past or even in the future. We are pretty much focused in the present, i.e. the upcoming semi-finals, and we will do our best on that day to try to perform and give our best, to win that game and progress into the finals,” Bibiano said. 

Punjab FC 

Punjab FC are coached by their senior team assistant coach Sankarlal Chakraborty. They eased past the Regional Qualifiers in the North Zone by winning nine out of their 10 group stage fixtures. They were pitted in Group D in the National Group Stage and secured 10 points from their four matches held at the Dhuler Football Stadium in Goa. 

Their defensive solidity has been at the cornerstone of their success, keeping eight clean sheets in 14 matches in RFDL 2024. Omang Dodum has been central to their success, netting 13 times this season. Overall, Punjab FC have scored 38 goals per game, which boils down to an average of 2.71 strikes every 90 minutes. Omang has also found adequate support from Manglenthang Kipgen, who has struck seven across the two stages of RFDL so far. 

Muthoot FA 

Muthoot FA have been one of the biggest success stories of RFDL 2024. In the Regional Qualifiers, they overtook Kerala Blasters FC and Gokulam Kerala FC to sit in the first place in the Kerala Zone with 24 points from 10 games. Then, they competed the National Group Stage in Kozhikode in Group B to take 10 points from four games and make it to the National Championship. 

Muthoot FA have scored 41 goals in 14 games in RFDL 2024, which is the highest amongst the four teams in the National Championship. They have maintained six clean sheets and conceded only 13 strikes, with Salahudeen Adnan K topping the goal-scoring charts for them by striking 10 times so far. 

East Bengal FC 

East Bengal FC were the standout performers in the Kolkata Zone Regional Qualifiers, bagging 18 points from 10 matches. The National Group Stage saw them earning nine points from four encounters. The Red & Gold Brigade kept eight clean sheets in 14 games so far, netting 22 times and conceding only 14 strikes. They will be hoping to overcome Muthoot FA in the semi-final tomorrow to find a spot in the final in the pursuit of their maiden RFDL championship. 

Reliance Foundation Development League 2023-24 National Championship Fixtures: 

The matches will be live-streamed on https://www.youtube.com/@RelianceFoundationYouthSports.

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