Calcutta: Andrew Barisic has a new name… The Pied Piper.
As a platoon of television crew trailed Kingfisher East Bengal’s hero against Mohun Bagan after Tuesday morning’s practice session, coach Trevor James Morgan yelled: “You have a new name… The Pied Piper.”
True. Sunday’s 88th-minute superb strike has changed Barisic’s life in Calcutta. And by his own admission he is enjoying every moment under the sun. Media attention, autograph-seekers, request for a photo-op… Barisic is the man.
On Wednesday, in the IFA Shield final against Prayag United Sports Club, Barisic will once again be expected to do something similar. It’s not that you score a goal of that standard every day, but the fans as usual want a goal from the Australian.
Barisic may get a start on Wednesday evening. With Edeh Chidi nursing a hamstring pull and not that keen to risk himself, keeping the I-League in mind, the Australian may partner Baljit Sahni upfront. Morgan, though, did not say Chidi is doubtful.
“Some players have stiffness in their muscles… That happens since we have been constantly playing over the past few weeks… But everyone is available,” he said.
It remains to be seen whether Morgan goes ahead with Chidi. In the 2011 Federation Cup final against Salgaocar, Morgan had fielded an injured Mehtab and had to pull him out within minutes. Those few minutes had aggravated Mehtab’s injury and he was out for a quite some time that season. This time with I-League very much in sight will he risk playing Chidi?
Otherwise, East Bengal have a settled look. The way they fought back against Bagan the other day was amazing, but the 120-minute skirmish and the tie-breaker has left them tired, mentally and physically. No wonder Morgan wants to finish it off within the regulation time.
It will be not be a cakewalk though for the defending champions. Agreed they won the group league match in Siliguri 2-0 with Chidi getting both the goals, the final will be a different proposition altogether.
United SC are still evolving as a side but they have the likes of Ranty Martins and Carlos Hernandez who are game-changers. While the Costa Rican’s defence splitting passes and ability to score from set-pieces can have a telling effect, Ranty is known as someone who poaches a mile if you yield an inch.
East Bengal’s defence will have to work overtime. Gurwinder Singh had a great match on Sunday but the same cannot be said of Uga Okpara. Uga is all about brawn and less brain and most of the time it is seen that the other central defender — whether Gurwinder, Arnab Mondal or Raju Gaekwad — is covering up for the Nigerian. Any mistake on Wednesday, Ranty will hit them hard.
United SC coach Eelco Schattorie clearly said East Bengal would be the favourites to retain the title. “They are in a good rhythm… Their style shows they are playing together for the past three years…
“It’s always difficult to play against teams who have a set team. Where as we are evolving as a team. But I must add it will not be a cakewalk,” he said.
The Dutch coach said he would like to see the final stretching to the extra-time.
“They played one 120 minute match in the semi-final. And that’s the last thing they would want on Wednesday. If the match goes to extra-time, then we will definitely have the advantage,” he said.
Tuesday’s practice session gave enough hint of Schattorie’s plans. There were two rounds of penalty shoot-outs and it meant United, unlike Bagan, would not be ready to blink first.
After the December 9 victory over Bagan, East Bengal suffered two reverses — first against Aryan and then United SC. Hopefully after the Super Sunday, Wednesday will not leave them high and dry.