The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bhaichung Bhutia will be the star attraction
- DURAND CUP l Favourites East Bengal take on Indian Bank in their opening match today

New Delhi: Ace striker Bhaichung Bhutia, will be the biggest attraction in East Bengal’s opening group B, Durand league fixture Tuesday for more reasons than one.

He will be playing in the Durand tournament, after a gap of eight years. He last played in India’s oldest football tournament for East Bengal in 1995, when Syed Nayeemuddin was the Calcutta team’s coach. East Bengal became champions beating Tata Football Academy (TFA) 4-3 in penalty shoot-outs, after the match ended goalless.

After that, injuries and duties with the national team and his stint in Bury FC prevented Bhaichung from playing in the Durand meet. There is another Durand record in Bhaichung’s name. Whenever he has played in the tournament his side has reached the final.

In 1993, when Shymal Ghosh was East Bengal coach, Bhaichung as a precocious teenager scored in the 1-0 semi final win over Border Security Force (BSF). He then played in the final in which East Bengal beat Punjab State Electricty Board (PSEB) 1-0. Next year, playing in midfield, Bhaichung helped East Bengal reach the final before losing to Mohun Bagan 0-1.

Thus coach Subash Bhowmick hopes Bhaichung will not only be the lucky mascot but start pumping in the goals.

Bhowmick said that he has a two-fold objective in East Bengal’s opening Group B league fixture against Indian Bank Chennai Tuesday. He wants his team to win by a big margin so that they can re-discover their scoring touch and avoid the pressure of a must-win match against Dempo on Thursday.

Bhowmick knows that goals are important. Dempo, the other team in group B has already beaten Indian Bank Chennai 3-0. With only one team qualifying, from each group, East Bengal cannot take their opener lightly.

Yet Bhowmick said: “The Durand is for experimentation. The National Football League (NFL), which I consider the most important tournament in the country, is round the corner and I have to get my entire squad match-fit. They are all physically fit, but some are still not match-fit.”

He is concerned about the form of fringe players like K. Kulothungan and Subash Chakraborty. Bhowmick also said that Alvito D’Cunha who is playing after a long lay-off needs to get sharper.

Explaining the lack of fitness, the coach said: “This season I had to prepare for the ASEAN Championships, so I initially only concentrated on my selected group of players. Then after we came back victorious, we lost to Vasco in the Federation Cup and I was under pressure to perform well in the Calcutta league and so could not experiment with all my players.”

Trainer Kevin Jackson has been kept back in Calcutta to get injured missing stars match-fit. The quartet who will miss the meet are defenders Deepak Mondal and M. Suresh midfielder Douglas D’Silva and forward Bijen Singh. Chandan Das is on duty for his institution in the inter-bank meet in nearby Chandigarh and may join his club side later this week.

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