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Home truths trouble East Bengal
- IFA SHIELD - Lukewarm response in Siliguri to watch ASEAN champions; Bhowmick to join team on match day

Siliguri: East Bengal are not worried about their prospects against Eastern Railway in their IFA Shield match to be played at the Kanchenjungha Stadium here on Saturday. What worries the national champions is their own performance. No way can they match what is expected of them. Somehow, the people here have got wind of that, and, going by ticket sales, not too many feel excited.

Bhaichung Bhutia is in Kuala Lumpur, Mike Okoro’s personal tragedy has taken him to Poland, Alvito D’Cunha’s injury has yet to heal and he will not be playing on Saturday at least. And then there is M. Suresh down with fever, Dipak Mondal squinting with an eye infection. Dipak may still be fielded, though. Looks like the load on Suley Musah’s and Douglas da Silva’s shoulders will be massive.

Eastern Railway coach Shankar Maitra says he really has little hope “though we can still try for a draw” while insisting that “our team too doesn’t have a few first team players” like Arunava Sarkar, Srikrishna Ghosh, Farid Ali Mollah and Somnath Pramanik. But he understands he has Nigerian Henry Odogo in the attack line, who has scored against East Bengal. If the East Bengal defence shows up to be as porous as it just might be, trouble can seep in from unattended quarters.

Coach Subhas Bhowmick is yet to arrive in the city. He will fly in on Saturday, going straight to the ground (trainer Kevin Jackson also comes in along with him). The coach was stuck in Calcutta, with his daughter Maitreyee leaving for England, to study law (a specialisation in gender studies). “I am worried about the format of the team,” he told The Telegraph over phone from Calcutta. I am not too keen to push Musah in the striker format there, but...” Therein lies the problem. Bijen Singh has been decent of late, but Raman Vijayan has disappointed and K. Kulothungan hasn’t really been exciting.

And the team needs fit players. The turf here is “way better than those in Calcutta, and the Horwah Stadium sort of matches it,” informed East Bengal official Swapan Bal. But both Bal and Eastern Railway coach Maitra said the grass here is thicker, needing better energy and endurance levels. That is when the climes are dry, and it has been raining once a day, at least, around these parts.

That is one reason, too, why D’Cunha would not risk his career. “Look, tomorrow is out, definitely, and I am not too sure of the future either,” he said. “The doctor stage is over now, and it is over to the physiotherapy part, and this could take time... How long I don’t know.” Even coach Bhowmick isn’t sure he will be able to field D’Cunha for the Shield (or whether he should). “But we must try,” said Bhowmick.

These are problems that haven’t escaped the paying public here. Siliguri mayor Bikash Ghosh — an avid sports follower and a patron for the Shield matches here — said he was only sure the 2,500 season tickets are gone. That, plus some gate sales, plus complimentaries would add up to no more than 5,000, maybe.

“Maybe we will sell 8-10,000 more tomorrow, but the enthusiasm is there no more (could be the Pujas, could be too much of cricket on telly, could be no real competition from Eastern Railway of Wari AC), and nobody wants to buy those Rs 10, 20, 30 daily tickets any more.

That is the crunch point. There is also the general dissatisfaction at the way Eastern Railway beat Wari on Friday — 2-0, with Odogo scoring both. East Bengal’s 45-minute practice this morning wasn’t really attended by more than the players and manager and support staff. A few Siliguri Mahakuma Krira Parishad officials were also around.

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