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Big Two in safety-first mode
- ‘Emotions of millions’ to drive East Bengal, Mohun Bagan for a win in season’s first derby

Calcutta: It was a May afternoon some 78 years back that the two first met. A lot of things have changed over the years, but the fervour and emotions that come packaged along with an East Bengal-Mohun Bagan match seem to have defied the test of time.

And it is the throbbing, pulsating emotions coursing through a million veins that is keeping the coaches of both teams on their toes on the eve of the first derby of the season.

Subhas Bhowmick, whose indomitable red-and-gold brigade had crushed everything that came their way last season, isn’t at all happy taking on the arch-rivals so early in the season. Neither is Mohun Bagan coach Aloke Mukherjee, who is lamenting the fact that he got “merely 20 days” to prepare his boys for the big day.

“It’ll seriously hamper our preparations for the ASEAN Cup. But how can I say that this match doesn’t have any significance,” Bhowmick said after a light work out at the East Bengal ground Friday.

“An undesirable result (a loss, that is), will dampen the spirits of the millions who brave the heat and the rain to watch us play. We’ll have to do it for them,” the maverick centre-forward for yesteryears said.

Mukherjee echoed the feelings of his opposite number.

“It’s such an emotional occasion, but I would only ask the fans to be patient. A victory here will really be great, but they shouldn’t lose heart if something else happens.

“It’s a new team and they will take some time to get used to the pressure of an East Bengal-Mohun Bagan game,” Mukherjee said.

He felt Mohun Bagan would have been better off if the match was played sometime later. “I could have prepared my boys a little better for it,” Mukherjee said.

Barreto-Bhutia factor

While the mercurial Jose Ramirez Barreto is back after a long lay-off, Bhaichung Bhutia is out to prove his detractors wrong.

And both Bhowmick and Mukherjee seem to be extremely respectful of their respective oppositions’ trump cards.

“Barreto is one of my most favourite players. He is sure to find a place in the history of Indian football,” Bhowmick said of the Brazilian. He will have “some specific plans to restrict Barreto”, but didn’t elaborate on them.

According to Mukherjee, Bhaichung is one player who can change the colour of a match in a matter of minutes. “There has hardly been a more opportunistic striker than him. We will definitely keep an eye on him,” he said.

Bhaichung, though, sounded quite relaxed. “It’s actually the quality of our defence that allows us to go into the match with an open mind,” he said.

The diminutive striker also felt that East Bengal are not dependent only on him to score. “Most of us are among the goals. I don’t think it will be a problem if I don’t score.”

East Bengal have won all four of their matches so far, scoring 16 goals in the process.

For his part, Barreto declined to look at the match as a battle between him and Bhaichung. “There’s no question of a personal rivalry. He’ll do his own job and I’ll do mine,” he said. Talking of his own fitness, the Barreto added: “Yes, it’s a bit difficult all right, but I’m trying my best.”

The Brazilian, who along with compatriot Pareira signed for Bagan on Friday had said on his arrival Wednesday, that he is only 50 per cent fit for the derby.

Despite this, Mukherjee insisted that the very presence of Barreto would be a motivating factor. “His presence will inspire the juniors to do better,” he said.

The Mohun Bagan coach said Ashim Biswas would partner Barreto up front and Marcos Pareira, the other Brazilian, would operate from a little deep.

Assessing East Bengal, Mukherjee said: “Their attacks down the right are extremely incisive. I’ll ask my boys to keep an eye on that.” He mentioned S. Malsawmtluanga and Surkumar Singh as the two threats down that flank.

Similarly, Bhowmick also rated Mohun Bagan highly. “When a team scores six goals in a match, you will have to give them their due,” he said. Mohun Bagan blanked West Bengal Police 6-0 before managing a 1-0 win against Tollygunge Tollygunge Agragami.

Douglas practises

Meanwhile, East Bengal’s Douglas da Silva, who stood out as a defensive midfielder last season, arrived Friday. After landing early morning, he was at the club practice stretching out with his teammates. “Earlier, I was a little unhappy with him. But he said his wife underwent an operation recently, thereby the delay,” Bhowmick said.

TEAMS

EAST BENGAL (from): Sangram Mukherjee, Suley Musah, Dipak Mondal, M. Suresh (Douglas da Silva), Surkumar Singh, S. Malsawmtluanga, Debjit Ghosh, Alvito D’Cunha, Shasthi Duley, Bhaichung Bhutia, K. Kulothungan (Bijen Singh).

MOHUN BAGAN (from): Imran Khan, Harpreet Singh, Debkumar Sashmol, Manitombi Singh, Rishi Kapoor, Mehtab Hossain, Hardeep Saini, Marcos Pareira (Basudeb Mondol), Rennedy Singh, Ashim Biswas, Jose Ramirez Barreto

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