The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Troubled EB just need draw

Calcutta: Just imagine a desperate football coach crying out for any player “fit and capable of lasting a full 90-minute match.” And this is happening to East Bengal, the team with arguably the best bench strength this season.

On the eve of his team’s crucial group A tie against Tollygunge Agragami in the TVS Fiero IFA Shield, therefore, it’s hardly surprising that Subhas Bhowmick observed “beggars can not be choosers”.

Thus Swarup Chatterjee, who last practised with the team two months back, is almost certain to resurface in the playing XI. Regular defender Suley Musah, on the other hand, may be pushed up front to do a scorer’s job.

With Kaustav Ghosh and S. Malswamtluanga not fit and Gilmar Goncalves out with injury for at least a fortnight, the coach hardly has much choice in finalising the XI.

For the record, the coach said Sangram Mukherjee (goalkeeper), Amjad Ali Khan, Arun Malhotra, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury in defence, Shasthi Duley, Jiten Rai, Soumitra Chakraborty in midfield and Trijit Das upfront are the ones likely to play Friday.

“I have just 13 players available tomorrow and have asked goalkeeper Arpan (Dey) to be ready for the match. If need be, I may use him as a striker,” he said Thursday evening.

For a man who scarcely lets his emotions betray him, this is an “unprecedented” situation and demands “a lot of mental pressure to keep one’s cool”.

Bhowmick said he wanted to play and win the Durand Cup “to prove a point and give my wards the taste of success outside Bengal” and, in return, tried to stay away from the IFA Shield. But his wish obviously hasn’t been fulfilled.

“I have always taken pride in developing a strong bench and lot of plans and hard work have gone into that process. Due to the hectic schedule (on Friday, his team will play its seventh match in 12 days), players have suffered recurring injuries, totally upsetting the applecart. I fear now I may not be able to recover from this shock when the National League resumes,” Subhas pointed out.

“I have never come across such a situation in my life, as a player or coach. Earlier, there was at least a week-long gap between two tournaments. Moreover, there was no pressure of the National League title”, he added.

But Bhowmick is not one to give up hope. “I’m optimist at least on one front. My players will wear the red-and-gold jersey and they know its value,” he remarked. “I know a draw will take us to the semi-finals, but they will play for only a win.”

There is further light down the tunnel. The Tollygunge Agragami midfield, which Bhowmick pointed out as “an area to be taken care of”, will be a depleted one. Mehtab Hossain and Sandip Das, pillars of strength in Tollygunge midfield, have gone to Goa for official commitments and so has defender Kabijit Khotel.

‘Question of survival’

Unlike East Bengal, Mohammedan Sporting are in a must-win situation against Calcutta Port Trust in Friday’s other match. “This is a question of our survival. We have to win tomorrow and that’s it,” said Habib.

The coach, however, expressed happiness with the way his team fought back and beat Vasco SC in the previous match. “Our boys played extremely well (against Vasco). We have got a ray of hope and we don’t want to lose track,” Habib felt.

Meanwhile, Mohammedan Sporting captain Dipendu Biswas was confident his team would make it to the semi-finals. “After the win against Vasco, the team’s morale is quite high and we are confident we would make it”, said the striker.

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