Calcutta: The super heavyweights have been knocked out of the ring but Vasco have hardly had the time to savour the triumph. And barely out of the daze of that anti-climactic win over mighty East Bengal, the Goans run in to another heavyweight team, at least on paper, in Wednesday’s Tata Federation Cup semi-final against Mahindra United.
Going by reputation, experience, and the amount of match practice the teams have had this season so far, Mahindra look well ahead, coach David Booth’s disapproval of this notwithstanding. Vasco, after all, have played just two matches this season after losing the cream of the talent which took them to a creditable third-place finish in the last National League.
Derek Parreira’s team doesn’t have a single foreigner, the indispensable ingredient to success in Indian football over the last few years. Mahindra have two overseas recruits and have been training under the new English coach for seven weeks. Also, they have played and won four matches in the Mumbai league.
“But Vasco will feel they can beat any team and they deserve that feeling. The adrenaline will keep them high,” opined Booth, who has previously coached the national teams of Brunei and Myanmar. “They worked very hard to beat East Bengal and are the favourites against us.” Booth doesn’t think the extra rest his team has got will make any difference.
“It will make a difference,” countered Vasco captain Selwyn Fernandez. “We are a little tired. They have had the time to relax and recuperate.” Mahindra’s last outing was on Saturday, against Air India, which they won 3-0.
Selwyn agreed that Mahindra appear better prepared at the moment, simply because they have got more time and match practice to settle as a team. “Possible, it gives them a slender advantage.”
Mahindra’s strength, going by reputation and the track record of their players, lies in midfield. Jules Alberto, Khalid Jameel, S. Venkatesh, James Singh — it is a formidable list in terms of skill, though it remains to be seen how they combine under a new coach.
“They are really formidable in that area… Lots of good players. I think the battle will be won and lost in midfield. We have the likes of Menino (Fernandez), Vinu Jose, Denis (Cabral) and Ajayan to test our rivals,” said the Vasco captain.
Like Vasco, the Mumbai team also lost a host of players in the inter-club transfers, but unlike their Goan rivals, Mahindra have roped in some big names too. Manager Henry Menezes hinted the management is keen to do well this season, after the below-par showing in the National League.
Hiring the likes of Jules, Venkatesh, Cowan Lawrence and Arun Malhotra apart from a foreign coach is a right indicator of Mahindra’s keenness to do well this season. “We’ve the makings of a good team. In the time we have been together, the players have tried to put together some of the things I have tried,” said Booth.
“We came here with the aim of blending as a team and stay in the competition for as long as possible. I am working on the basic ingredients of team formation. It takes time to strike the perfect combination, but maybe with a little bit of luck we can make the final,” the coach said.
Selwyn, however, promised a fight. “We are confident, more so after beating East Bengal. The players are playing well and working hard. It’ll be a good match if the ground remains good.” If not anything else, goalkeeper Saji Joy’s superb form should make the Vasco camp feel confident.
The two city giants are no more in fray, but the so-called lesser powers of Indian football are bracing for a fight. After nursing the bruises, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan can keep an eye on this match to get an idea of what to expect once the National League gets underway.
Mahindra United: Sunder Rajan, Lawson Odartey, Sanjay Parte, Arun Malhotra, Covan Lawrence, Rauf Khan, Jules Alberto, S. Venkatesh, Khalid Jameel, James Singh, Raphael Akakpo/Avishek Yadav.
Vasco: Saji Joy, Seby Dias, John Dias, Selwyn Fernandez, Vinu Jose, Kamal Thapa, Denis Cabral, Menino Fernandez, K. Ajayan, Agnelo Gomes, Levy Coelho.