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Grudge tie for Bagan

Mumbai: Revenge will be the underlying theme when Mohun Bagan take on Mumbai FC in a clash that kicks off the second phase of the I-League football championship here on Friday.

Bagan were humbled 1-2 by Mumbai FC at home and the Calcutta giants would be keen to set the record straight when the two teams face-off in the second leg tie at the Cooperage.

Certainly the circumstances have changed from what they were four months ago.

When Bagan entered the season opener, they were battle-weary after playing in the gruelling local league and some of their key players, including Bhaichung Bhutia, were carrying injuries. But on Friday they will go into the match fresh and fit after a welcome break.

Similarly, the hosts were unknown opponents at the start of the season but after 11 rounds, all their I-League opponents would have dissected their style and strategy and identified the chinks in their armour.

Crucially, Bagan overcame a poor start to the prestigious tournament and finished the first phase with six wins on the trot. The green-and-maroon brigade are currently placed second in the league table with 21 points.

According to many, the visitors are the favourites going into Friday’s match.

Mumbai FC coach David Booth was smart enough to accept the underdog tag. That way, the Englishman said, his players wouldn’t be carrying the burden of having to prove themselves once again.

“There is no pressure on us. Bagan have everything to win. They have to win the League, win this and that. We don’t have to do that,” he said.

Karim Bencharifa, Booth’s counterpart, was certainly not underestimating the hosts.

“When a team have 12 points and are placed fourth (in the standings), there can be no question about not respecting them,” the Moroccan said after the team’s practice session at the Cooperage.

Instead, the visiting coach chose to focus on his own team. “The three-week break we had was not a choice but a must for us… We divided our training into three parts,” he said.

“The first week we focused on getting back our fitness. The second we increased our intensity by having two sessions a day, and the third week we slowed down by coming back to the normal one-session-a-day programme.

“What happened in the first leg is history now. The players are fresh and high on confidence. The ground conditions are good. I don’t see why we can’t do well.”

Bagan will miss Rakesh Masih, the central midfielder, who has a double booking.

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