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Injury-hit Bagan cautious

Calcutta: With stakes to the richest prize in Asian football now lost, it’s time for the National Football League (NFL) champions Mohun Bagan to defend the most prestigious title back home.

As coach Subrata Bhattacharya put it, “Taejon Citizen is past and JCT is present”.

However, it can hardly be called a good time for the green and maroon brigade on the eve of their NFL clash against Sukhwinder Singh’s team. Almost half of the team is unfit and the coach is having a tough time stringing in his first XI.

Defender Satish Bharti and midfielder Jayanta Sen are out with stomach problem and muscle strain in right leg, respectively, while Lolendra Singh is still in hospital (suffering from malignant malaria).

New face in the squad, defender Palash Karmakar, on lien from Bhratri Sangha, is also injured but Subrata said he would be there in the starting line-up. The coach, however, made no bones about pinpointing so many injuries to players to “pathetic” ground conditions.

There are a few bright spots, though. India goalkeeper Rajat Ghosh Dastidar is back, so is Bhaichung Bhutia. And their inclusion means Subrata can now tinker with the idea of going for the kill against JCT.

He’s most likely to play his team in 4-4-2 formation with three attacking aces — Bhaichung, Jose Ramirez Barreto and George Ekeh — to figure in starting XI.

“My boys have been playing continuously over the past few months. Had they got little rest, I would have got a fitter team at my disposal. Well, this is no excuse and I have to continue with what I have now,” Subrata told reporters on Friday.

He was also a bit wary about their opponents’ ‘running’ qualities and the vast experience of the veteran duo Jo Paul Ancheri and I.M. Vijayan. “They’re definitely the potential threats for us,” he added.

New Ghanaian recruit K. Yeboah also forced special mention from the country’s most successful coach at present.

All is not quiet on the JCT front as well with Hardeep Gill and Jaswinder Singh, their two key players, injured and unlikely for the game.

But Sukhwinder put up a bold face on the adversities. “This time, the team is a good combination of youthful agility and experience. And we are quite confident to finish the league much higher in the ladder,” he said.

“We are playing against the tougher opponents in the first phase and in a way, it’s good for us. At the later stage, when the team will be set, we believe we will be able to put up a better performance”, he maintained.

Both teams have played two matches so far. Mohun Bagan won one and drew another while JCT are yet to open their account.

TEAMS (likely)

Mohun Bagan: Rajat Ghosh Dastidar; Dulal Biwas, Isa Musah, Sumit Sengupta/Kajol Bhattacharya, Palash Karmakar; Basudeb Mondal, Sunil Chettri/Rennedy Singh; Bhaichung Bhutia, Jose Ramirez Barreto, George Ekeh.

JCT: Arvind Kumar; Musah Aliu, J. Randhawa, Harpret Singh, Daljit Singh; Kuldip Singh/Jaswinder Singh, Jo Paul Ancheri, Harvinder Singh, I.M. Vijayan, Hardeep Gill, K. Yeboah.

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