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Chennai City and Minerva Academy given direct entry into I-League for 2017

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Chennai City FC and Chandigarh-based Minerva Academy were on Sunday handed direct entries into the I-League, sources at the All India Football Federation's (AIFF) bid evaluation committee meeting said. Minerva Academy had finished behind Dempo in the I-League second division in 2016. They have since then renamed themselves as Minerva Punjab FC.

Chennai City FC, on the other hand, play in the local league in Chennai. AIFF has also incorporated Goa's Churchill Brothers to play in the I-League, making it a 10-team contest. The 2016-17 edition of the tournament is scheduled to start in January next year.

Chennai City FC, it was learnt, had submitted a bid for direct entry in the league but failed to meet the financial criteria which needed a performance bank guarantee of Rs 100 crore. But they were given the nod after AIFF watered down the bank guarantee to a mere Rs 1 crore.

Popular Goan club trio of Salgaocar, Sporting Clube de Goa and Dempo SC recently pulled out of the I-League citing AIFF's lack of vision.

The withdrawals left AIFF with barely seven teams in the I-League top division, which included the relegated Aizawl FC and Churchill, who are being recalled after a two-year hiatus. Churchill were denied permission to play in the top division for failing to follow strict Asian Football Confederation (AFC) guidelines.

They were part of the I-League till 2014 but were dumped for failing to fulfill the mandatory club licensing criteria.

Since then, Churchill filed four petitions in the Delhi High Court and earned a relief last week when the court asked AIFF to consider their application.

Goa's FC Bardez and Neroca FC from the North East region of the country also submitted their bids but failed to make the cut.