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Eyeing a red-letter day

- EB stay ‘relaxed’ despite missing Uga, Gurwinder in defence
Kingfisher East Bengal players during a training session, in Siliguri, on Saturday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh

Siliguri: The Kingfisher East Bengal camp, on the eve of the Federation Cup final against Dempo, looked very relaxed. At least on the surface. If Sanju Pradhan was having a banter with Alvito D’Cunha, who just flew down from Calcutta, Seiminlen Doungel was busy marvelling at his icon Sunil Chetri’s new postings from Portugal on his newly-bought tablet. And oblivious of whatever happening around him, Naoba Singh was busy fiddling with his mobile.

But scratch the surface and ask some questions, the players get conscious about the fact there is a big match on Sunday evening at the Kanchenjungha Stadium.

“Yes it is a big match,” Sanju said at the team hotel, on Saturday evening. “There is tension, the players know the importance of this match. The pressure is on us. The crowd will be expecting us to win the Cup,” the captain said.

“We have silenced everyone after beating Churchill Brothers in the semi-final. Look, the way the vernacular dailies went after us after the Kalighat MS match was very unfortunate… Negative criticism can be depressing. But then it can spur you on, too. After the Kalighat match, we were desperate to prove a point. I think the right way to answer them is to prove yourself on the field,” Sanju said.

This proving-yourself-on-the-field mentality has been drilled into the players’ system by none other than coach Trevor James Morgan. For him, winning a championship means more than winning a match.

“Winning is very important,” he said. According to Morgan, it’s not possible to win every match playing beautiful football. So, he doesn’t mind slugging it out at times to bring home three points.

East Bengal, on Sunday, will be missing Uga Okpara and Gurwinder Singh in the heart of the defence. Raju Gaekwad and Arnab Mondal are the likely replacements. It should concern Morgan even though, true to his style, he did not give much importance to who would not be there.

“Ever since he came here in 2010, I have never seen him cribbing about the players he was missing due to suspensions or injuries,” Mehtab Hossain, whose professional life changed for the better post 2010, said.

It’s not that Morgan’s opposite number, the much respected and highly successful Armando Colaco complains about card problems and injuries. His idea of football, which has seen Dempo emerging as the most successful club in recent history has been very simple. Nurture the talent, give them confidence and help them to soar. So you still see the likes of Clifford Miranda, Climax Lawrence, Mahesh Gawli and Peter Carvalho swearing by his name.

Ask Beto, now with Churchill Brothers or Prayag United’s Ranty Martins, the impact Armando had on them during their halcyon days with Dempo. “A coach’s job is a difficult job. You have to be a father figure… Sometimes you have to be like a friend,” Armando said.

“I am a big fan of Morgan. The way he has transformed this East Bengal side is truly remarkable.”

So will it be a clash of two coaches? “Obviously. It will be a tactical battle. Whichever team manage to execute their coach’s tactics well will have the final laugh,” he said.

Dempo’s midfield has been extraordinary in this tournament. Clifford has been in great form and Climax, as usual, was no-nonsense at the centre of the park. And then there is Koko Sakibo upfront who can pose a few problems for the inexperienced East Bengal defence. New signing Ryuji Sueoka is still doubtful for the match.

“I am not sure. I will take a call tomorrow. But I must say it is completely the player’s call. If he thinks he is ready to play, then the coach will always go by what the player thinks,” Armando said. He is spot on.

So who will be taking home the Federation Cup? Will it be Dempo, who last won in 2004 when Cristiano Junior had a fatal collision with Subrata Paul in the final? Or it will be the red-and-gold brigade after a one-year hiatus?

Kanchenjungha Stadium though has been a happy hunting ground for East Bengal. In 1988, one Chima Okerie single-handedly won a tournament for the red and gold brigade here in Siliguri. It’s still part of folklore here. Such was the impact that one soft-drink company immediately signed Chima as their “face.” Those days that was a real big deal. Twenty-four years later, another Nigerian Edeh Chidi has a chance to do something similar. He is amongst goals and has that swagger of a champion. East Bengal fans will really like Chidi to go bang bang…

Match starts: 6:30pm

The rivalry record

This is the second time in the history of the Federation Cup that East Bengal and Dempo will clash in the final.

The teams have faced each other eight times, with EB winning on six occasions. Dempo have won once while one match had ended in a draw. Also, compared to EB’s 12 goals,

Dempo have scored just three. Here’s the head-to-head list in Federation Cup:

1980 (Group League, Calcutta) — EB 3 (Tapan Das, Jamsed, Majid) Dempo 0

1983 (Group League, Kannur) — EB 0 Dempo 0

1994 (Preliminary, Margao) — EB 3 (Aqueel Ansari-2, Ajay Singh) Dempo 0

1995 (Preliminary, Siliguri) — EB 2 (Bhaichung Bhutia, Goutam Ghosh) Dempo 1 (Camillo Gonsalves)

1995 (Group League, Siliguri) — EB 1 (Bhaichung Bhutia) Dempo 0

1996 (Final, Calcutta) — EB 2 (Tushar Rakshit, Raman Vijayan) Dempo 1 (Camillo Gonsalves)

2006 (Quarter final, Calcutta) — Dempo 1 (Ranty Martins) EB 0

2011 (Group League, Calcutta) — EB 1 (Robin Singh) Dempo 0

Hariprasad Chattopadhyay

The Key Men

East Bengal

Edeh Chidi: Undoubtedly East Bengal’s main man. If East Bengal have to win, this Nigerian striker has to be at his best. He has already got four goals under his belt but missed out in semi-final clash against Churchill Brothers. Chidi is developing a good understanding with Manandeep Singh and it will be interesting to see how the duo perform on Sunday. Chidi on his day can be deadly. Remember those four goals he scored for Mohun Bagan against East Bengal in October 2009. The red and gold brigade will want something similar on Sunday.

Penn Orji: The barometer of the East Bengal team. If this man has a good day in office East Bengal smile, and if he does not perform then the team just fade away on the field. His precision passes and enviable peripheral view are something which gives his markers a torrid time. In the semis against Churchill, it was his smart thinking which led to the eventual winner. On his day he can have a telling effect.

Mehtab Hossain: Ever since Trevor James Morgan took over the reins, Mehtab has been a different player altogether. His constant running and snapping on his “target’s” heels gives Penn the freedom to express himself. When East Bengal attack, Mehtab is there and is also very quick to retreat whenever the rivals try to catch the red and gold brigade napping on the break. A versatile player, much of East Bengal’s fortune will depend on this diminutive player.

DEMPO

Clifford Miranda: The captain of the Dempo side has been in great form in this tournament. His runs from the left and pinpoint deliveries have always given the rival defences a harrowing time. On Sunday, East Bengal will have to be very careful dealing with Clifford. One slip here, and you will find Clifford running with the ball down the flank. Koko Sokibo will be praying that Clifford “deliver” on Sunday. After all, the Nigerian is fighting for the top scorer’s spot with compatriot Chidi.

Climax Lawrence: Armando Colaco’s man for all seasons. The seasoned campaigner will have a tough task of nullifying the dual threat of Mehtab and Penn at the centre of the park. He has done it in the past, controlling the midfield, pulling the strings… So it will be foolish to think that age has slowed him down. He still has quite a few years left in him. Dempo’s fate will much depend on how Climax plays on Sunday.

Mahesh Gawli: The defender par excellence, Mahesh is typical been there done that player. Cool headed and very good in thwarting rival forays Mahesh gives the much-needed solidity to the Dempo defence. His battle with Chidi and Manandeep will be interesting.