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East Bengal hold clear advantage
- Super Division Decider - Depleted Mohun Bagan forced to blood ’keeper Narzari in crunch match

Calcutta, Nov. 1: The last time the two met (in the IFA Shield final) on unequal footing, East Bengal were in a pit, top players injured or booked out. That was when Mohun Bagan should have struck out. The green-maroon brigade managed a poor show and East Bengal fared better, even with less than the full quota in play, losing in the tie-breaker.

Tomorrow, in the play-off final of the Calcutta Super Division League, Mohun Bagan look the ones with the weak knees. East Bengal, if one follows the book, should win in a canter.

However, coach Subhas Bhowmick, though looking relaxed, made it clear he will never try to predict anything in a Mohun Bagan-East Bengal encounter. “It remains a match in the mind, of the pressures of the day and how each team and each player is able to take it.”

Boosting East Bengal, of course, will be the arrival of Bhaichung Bhutia, Mahesh Gawli and Sangram Mukherjee from the Hyderabad Afro-Asian Games. The first signed at the IFA today and did not even come to the ground during practice — the coach said he had given him a “rest” — while the other two were around but did not touch the ball.

Also the good point for the team was the news Friday that Alvito D’Cunha has been allowed to play. That lends substance to the midfield. It is to be seen how the tension of the Games has affected the fitness of the three who have returned.

Chandan Das, though will be away, playing for his bank employers (as would be Basudeb Mondal and Prasanta Dora of Mohun Bagan), and this is a part that is an itch for Bhowmick. “I will miss him, definitely,” he said.

Douglas da Silva’s injury will keep him out, as will injuries to M. Suresh (his shoulder hairline fracture and groin strain are “serious”, said the coach), Dipak Mondal and Bijen Singh. These wouldn’t have been good signs for any team, but considering the morale of Mohun Bagan (the loss to Ever-Ready in the Airlines Cup considered), maybe it isn’t that big a distraction.

Bhowmick said Musah will “play sweeper tomorrow, and will not be overlapping.” If a goal ahead, one would certainly see the skipper lope up, is the general belief, though. Bhowmick also wants Debjit Ghosh as a “blocker” in his 3-5-2 format. But his strategy should see changes with the situation.

Mohun Bagan coach Aloke Mukherjee came in from Hyderabad this morning and went straight to the ground. He admitted East Bengal were “ahead” player-for-player, but reminded all that in such a match the mind can and does play tricks.

He will miss the services of Jose Ramirez Barreto (which, Bhowmick said, will be a “loss for the spectators”), but the consolation will be in the return of Marcos Parreira and Ashim Biswas.

Biswas’ form, though has not shown any return to the peak of the past, and anyway, he has not really been known to be the performer in a big match.

The bigger safety cushion could be the return of Rennedy Singh. The dead-ball acumen apart, he will be able to break through the defensive options in the rival ranks.

The sad story for Bagan will be in the last line of defence. With Dora out, the fourth goalkeeper, 19-year-old Billy Fang Narzari (from SAI’s Guwahati centre) will be straight into a big match. The tall kid has played for about ten minutes in the league (versus Tollygunge Agragami), but said he was “confident”.

Not so confident was the coach. He said he was not depending on the star factor, but on the “team factor”. His absence didn’t really affect the team except in practice.

This is the one place East Bengal has benefited. “This gap has been god for us,” Bhowmick said.

The reason why Bagan pulled out of the Durand Cup is the unfit team. That isn’t a good team to take into the top league match. Hopefully this play-off final will be thrown out from next year.

TEAMS (from)

East Bengal: Sangram Mukherjee, Mahesh Gawli, Suley Musah, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury, Sur Kumar Singh, Shylo Malsawmtluanga, Debjit Ghosh, Dipankar Roy, Alvito D’Cunha, Sasthi Duley, Mike Okoro, Bhaichung Bhutia.

Mohun Bagan: Billy Fang Narzari, Monitombi Singh, Sanjeev Maria, Harpreet Singh, Lolendra Singh, Palash Karmakar, Mehtab Hossain, Rennedy Singh, Rishi Kapoor, Marcos Pereira, Ashim Biswas, Sunil Chhetri.

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