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Injured Bhutia to miss semis
- Chandan’s return to bolster midfield

New Delhi: East Bengal are in a bit of trouble. On the eve of their Durand Cup semi-final versus Air India, ace striker Bhaichung Bhutia said he will not be available because of a calf muscle injury. He said he is doubtful for the final as well.

Coach Subhas Bhomwick has put a on brave face, saying Bhutia was “being rested” because he has already got an yellow card and final should be clear. The injury was not denied, though. Manager Swapan Bal said: “I took Bhaichung to the doctor for an X-ray and the doctor said there was no muscle tear or cause for worry.”

However, after the crippling injury, which ruined most of his last season with Mohun Bagan, Bhaichung is taking no chances and has categorically said that he will not play in the semi-final.

Still, East Bengal may not really miss Bhaichung’s services Saturday. Alvito D’Cunha and Mike Okoro, with support from Shylo Malsawmtluanga and either K. Kultothungan or Subhas Chakraborty should be a handful for Air India’s relatively inexperienced defence. However, if Bhaichuing is not available for the final against Salgaocar Monday it could be major psychological blow.

Alvito is not yet fully match-fit and Okoro also does not look as sharp as before.

Minor relief for East Bengal was the news that midfielder Chandan Das has joined the squad after his office commitments in Chandigarh and is available for the semi-final.

Bhowmick said: “Chandan will certainly play, because we need a central midfielder who can compose the game and pass accurately. Chandan is in good physical shape and I think he can play an important role for us.”

On his opponents, Bhomick said: “Air India are a fighting, speedy side and we have to establish control early.” He is still undecided on whether to use the 3-5-2 or the 4-4-2 system. He added that in case he plays in the 3-5-2 system, Sur Kumar Singh may be used as marker along with Mahesh Gawli with Suley Mussah as sweeper.

Bhowmick has also warned Gawli to be careful about picking up needless yellow cards by arguing with the referee. Gawli was penalised in the ASEAN Cup semi-final and in the vital Durand quarter final league match vs Dempo for dissent.

Air India coach Bimal Ghosh said: “If my players do not get overawed by the occasion and the opponents, we will put up a good show.

Ghosh has revamped Air India, with eight newcomers this season. He said: “The office management has allowed me to field three foreigners in the National Football League B division late this season. I have identified three African players and will be recruiting them soon.”

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