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Bagan face the PK test
- Semi-final vs md. sp.

Calcutta: There is no gainsaying inspiring notes have a magic in itself. And when it comes from someone called ‘PK’, it becomes more distinct and distinguished.

Ask any Mohammedan Sporting player and you will immediately notice how acutely inspiration mingles with perspiration.

Since the legendary P.K. Banerjee took charge as Mohammedan Sporting’s technical adviser on the eve of their Tata Federation Cup opener, things seem to have started falling into place for them.

“He’s a larger-than-life figure. His presence has changed our attitude,” said Dipendu Biswas on Monday, during practice.

“I have done nothing but activated their mind. I found the players lacking in mental strength. Also they were suffering from a sense of inferiority complex. I’ve made them believe in themselves and the results are showing,” accepted PK.

This ascendancy in self-belief was amply reflected in the Mohammed Habeeb-coached team’s 5-0 demolition of NFL runners-up Salgaocar SC in the quarters. “It’s just the beginning… the giant has just woken up,” PK warned.

And Aloke Mukherjee, himself a former student of PK who is now engaged as Mohun Bagan coach, is paying enough attention to it. “How can I turn my back from his warning' He’s a respected coach and such a master strategist!”

Thus, on the eve of semi-final No. 1 of the Tata Federation Cup between Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting, the battleline has been drawn in awe and worry against one man’s ubiquitous presence.

Mohun Bagan are the defending champions and most successful side in the meet, winning it 11 times. But both Aloke and Habeeb felt, the match was fifty-fifty. As Aloke put it, “You can’t identify any team as favourites when a place in the Federation Cup final is at stake”.

With Brazilian forwards Barreto and Marcos Parreira on display, and captain Rennedy Singh anchoring the left wing in outstanding fashion, Aloke seems to be at ease with the idea of testing the rival defence at the outset. There will be no Ashim Biswas, though.

Babun Kar’s convincing debut as right back against JCT and Manitombi Singh on the opposite end will comfort the coach. New Nigerian recruit Chukwuma Akuneto will act as defensive screen.

The move is aimed at frustrating the three-pronged attack of Dipendu, Rahim Nabi and Sheikh Sanjib, who have been in good nick this season. Mohammedan Sporting, though, will miss defender Amjad Ali Khan and midfielder Khalid Siddiqui, both out with double booking.

As has been the case in earlier matches, all eyes will again turn to the Salt Lake Stadium turf. PK described the ground as “befitting for wrestling, not football”.

Teams (likely)

Mohun Bagan: Arindam Ghosh, Babun Kar, Harpreet Singh, Deb Kumar Sasmal, Manitombi Singh; Chukwuma Akuneto, Hardeep Saini, Hardeep Gill, Rennedy Singh; Jose Ramirez Barreto, Marcos Parreira.

Mohammedan Sporting: K.M. Refeek; Madhab Das, Hussain Mustafi, Habib Adekunle. Amandeep Singh; Bungo Singh, Shahnawaz Iqbal Khan, Arjan Ali, Rahim Nabi; Sheikh Sanjib, Dipendu Biswas.

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