| East Bengal players practising under the supervision of coach Subhas Bhowmick at the Kanchenjungha Stadium in Siliguri on Friday. Picture by Kundan Yolmo
Siliguri: For East Bengal, the ninth edition of the National Football League (NFL) could well turn out to be a case of being so near, yet so far. The red and gold outfit go into Saturday’s final league match against Vasco SC, at the Kanchenjungha Stadium here, with the knowledge that a win alone wouldn’t suffice to secure them the championship.
Their fate will be decided by the results of the other two matches, which are also being played on the same day in Goa. As things stand, East Bengal must win their game, and then hope that both Sporting Clube de Goa and Dempo falter against Mahindra United and Tollygunge Agragami, respectively.
East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick seems already resigned to his fate, if his demeanour at the pre-match briefing is anything to go by. “Tomorrow is our last match. We will try to win so as to get 46 points and finish in the first three,” said Bhowmick.
But his opponents from Goa, who have already been relegated to the lower division, are determined not to throw in the towel without a fight. “We don’t have big names like East Bengal, but we function as a team. We are definitely going for a win tomorrow,” said Mathew D’Costa, Vasco’s coach.
Both the teams, however, have injury worries. While Chandan Das and M. Suresh are doubtful starters for East Bengal, Vasco’s Sushant and Vinu are indisposed. “We will see how they feel tomorrow before deciding on our playing eleven,” said D Costa. East Bengal are, of course, the worst off in the injury department as two of their stars in Bhaichung Bhutia and Alvito D’Cunha could not even board the flight to Siliguri due to various health problems.
“The ground with its thick and uneven grass is not good. The stadium used to have a much better playing surface in the past,” said Bhowmick. His Vasco counterpart, however, had no such problem. “We are actually worried about the rain, since it rained very heavily this morning. If there is a downpour as well, it will not be conducive to good football,” said D’Costa.
Rains apart, the visiting team will also be at the receiving end of the partisan crowd support for East Bengal. Each and every member of the 35,000-capacity stadium would be rooting for the men in red-and-gold, which is playing its first ever NFL match here.
Both the teams are likely to stick to their usual styles of play, without experimenting much. “We will be playing in our traditional 4-4-2 formation and hope to catch East Bengal on the counter,” disclosed the Goa coach. Bhowmick, on the other hand, preferred to play his cards close to his chest.
Sporting a win away
Sporting, who take on Mahindra United at the Nehru Stadium, need an outright win to go to 48 points which will give them their maiden NFL title, adds PTI from Margao.
If Sporting draw with Mahindra, a win for Dempo over Tollygunge Agragami at Tilak Ground, Saturday will give them the title as they will finish with 47 points, one point ahead of Sporting.
Sporting Clube de Goa coach Clifford Chukwama said they will go all out for a win to achieve their maiden title. “With no injury worry our boys are determined to prove a point more than ever before,” Clifford said.
Omagbemi, leading scorer with 21 goals, needs two more goals to overtake Yusif Yakubu as the NFL’s all time leading scorer in a year.
Mahindra, on the other hand, want to maintain their fourth place will aim for victory. We play every match with an aim of winning and Saturday will be no different.
“We are aware that sporting could become the champion if they beat us but we are in no mood to take it easy. We will try to take three points and boost our tally, stated Mahindra coach Syed Nayeemuddin.
Dempo, who will play their first NFL match at Tilak ground against Tollygunge, will be without defender Bolaji (double booking) and Riston Rodrigues due to injury.
In Kozhikode, Fransa Pax will go all-out vs State Bank of Travancore to further improve their position. Fransa are now on now in fifth spot with 30 points, will go in search of an outright victory to finish a creditable fourth.