| Mohun Bagan players at an indoor training session Friday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: A fresh wave of confidence is flowing across the Mohun Bagan camp. It has originated from the presence of Bhaichung Bhutia and been boosted by the Tuesday’s win over East Bengal.
Come Sunday, and Bhutia is all set to team up with Jose Ramirez Barreto for the first time in front of the city fans. Saunders FC of Sri Lanka is most likely to feel the heat of this combination and a little more in the AFC Champions League second-leg tie.
Sitting pretty on the cushion of a 2-0 away win, coach Subrata Bhattacharya is getting excited with the prospect of letting loose his arsenal against the Sri Lankan champions, though he is trying to hide it. “We were cautious in the Colombo tie since everything was unknown. The attacking half of my team will be under instructions to go for it early on Sunday,” said Subrata, who will fall back to the 4-4-2 format after tinkering with something like 3-5-2 in the local league.
Only a defeat by a margin of three goals or more can prevent Mohun Bagan from setting up a next-round clash with Valencia of Maldives.
Subrata will field three foreigners — Yakubu in deep defence, George Ekeh as central midfielder and of course Barreto. “If I let free Ekeh to support the strikers, I will still have enough supply from midfield,” said Subrata.
The coach and a few players said Saunders troubled them occasionally with some quick passing and running in the attacking third in the first-leg, but none seemed worried by their defensive organisation. “They are somewhat like the Goans, neat in build-ups,” noted Subrata.
It is natural for Subrata to be high on confidence. Not just because an in-form Bhutia is around, but also because of the fact that his team looks several notches higher with the arrival of other national-campers — Rajat Ghosh Dastidar, Satish Bharti and Rennedy Singh.
Turf displeases Saunders
Saunders, meanwhile, are upset with the condition of the Mohun Bagan ground — their practice venue before the clash. Saying this, coach P.D. Sirisena added he was surprised by Mohun Bagan’s “physical” approach in Colombo.
At least four players have left the Sri Lankan champions this season. There are no foreigners in their team. The four national-team players in the team are goalkeeper L.P. Weerasinghe, midfielders M.M.A. Isuro (captain), Chathura Maduranga and striker Niroshan Abeysaxena.
Even though Saunders lost their home match, the other team in fray from the Emerald Island — Sri Lankan Air Force — drew their home match 1-1 against New Radiant of Maldives.
Churchill Brothers, the second Indian team in the competition, will meet Saigon Port of Vietnam in the first round. The Goans host the Vietnamese at Margao on October 11 and play the away tie in Ho Chi Minh City on October 25.