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Bhowmick banks on Bhutia-factor
- DURAND FINAL l Salgaocar look to their midfield strength

New Delhi: Bhaichung Bhutia can make his own tryst with destiny when he takes the field in the Durand Cup final against Salgaocar on Monday. It is his fourth appearance in a Durand final, but surprisingly enough, he has never scored in the title round of India’s oldest tournament.

For the record conscious Bhaichung, this should be motivation enough to overcome mental apprehensions and niggling calf-muscle injuries to go out in full throttle.

And coach Subhas Bhowmick knows full well what a hungry Bhaichung can do to the opponents in a big-match situation like this. Keeping that in mind, the maverick coach is banking on the striker to help his team retain the prestigious title, which will be a perfect dress rehearsal for the red-and-gold brigade before they embark on their National League campaign.

Even the Salgaocar coach Savio Madeira was eager to know whether the “special player” will be fit for the final. He however hastily added: “We won’t have a marker for Bhutia.”

Bhowmick was relieved that Bhutia’s calf-injury is not serious to rule him out of the title round. “We have to start with Bhutia as it will give us a psychological advantage,” Bhowmick said. The coach further added: “The scan showed that there is muscle tear. Bhutia is still haunted by his injury last season.”

The man himself believes he will be able to take the field. “I am feeling much better now and hopefully I will play,” Bhutia said.

Meanwhile, the rival coaches were ebullient in praise of their opposition on match-eve Sunday.

“East Bengal is the best team in the country and they have many players who can change the game in a few seconds,” Madiera said.

“Salgaocar is not only best in Goa, but also one of the best in the country. Their strength lies in their mobile and creative midfield,” Bhowmick returned the compliment.

Salgaocar and East Bengal have had some great battles in the past. Honours were split in the last NFL, with East Bengal winning 2-1 at home but going down 0-2 in Goa.

But Bhowmick made it clear that the loss wasn’t anything to be concerned about. “We had already won the title and were not motivated enough for that match,” he said.

In last year’s Durand semi-finals, the Calcutta giants edged past Salgaocar 1-0 with Mike Okoro scoring the 79th-minute winner.

The two sides have met once before in the Durand final in 1999. After a goalless 120 minutes, Salgaocar won 3-2 in the penalty shoot-out. Defender Roberto Fernandez and midfielder Dharamjit Singh are the only survivors of that triumph. Alvito D’Cunha, who was with the Goa club then, is one of the pillars of strength of the current East Bengal side. However, according to Bhowmick, he is not fit enough to start.

The East Bengal coach indicated that East Bengal will play in the 3-5-2 system with Chandan Das as the midfield playmaker and skipper Suley Musah the likely marker for the nippy Nigerian striker Felix Ibrebru.

Tomba Singh is the man behind most of Salgaocar’s moves down the right, and Sasthi Duley will be used to curb him. The Goa team, incidentally, will be playing in the 4-5-1 formation.

East Bengal will also be motivated by the fact that if they win Monday, they will be on a par with arch-rivals Mohun Bagan, who have won the title 16 times.

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