|East Bengal coach Marcos Falopa with his Semen Padang counterpart Jafri Sastra, on Monday. A Telegraph picture
Calcutta: Marcos Falopa wants a gift from his players. On the eve of the AFC Cup first-leg quarter final against Semen Padang, he asked East Bengal players to gift him a victory. “Even a 1-0 win will do,” he said at the pre-match media conference at the Salt Lake Stadium, here on Monday.
If you think the Brazilian is nervous, then you are not off the mark. Tuesday’s clash is his first major test as the East Bengal coach and a victory will make his future less tense.
The coach is going through a turbulent time, trying to bring East Bengal out of Trevor James Morgan’s shadow. He is trying his best, but as happens with a new coach this Brazilian also needs time.
Falopa had his run-ins with some senior players, particularly the foreign brigade. Even though things have not gone out of his hand, the situation is volatile right now. Falopa is losing his cool even answering mundane questions from the media, and that too is not helping his cause.
Such is the scenario that the coach has asked all the 22 players to come to the ground at 2.30 pm on Tuesday with their kits. “It’s ridiculous for players who will not be in the 18-man squad to come with their kits,” a senior player said on Monday.
With Falopa keeping the cards close to his chest, the inclusion of Japanese recruit Ryuji Sueoka is a thing of speculation right now. Sueoka, who has recovered from injury, is very keen to start against the Indonesian club but there is every chance that the coach may keep him on the bench.
James Moga and Edeh Chidi are certain to start with Reisangmi Vashum, Cavin Lobo, captain Mehtab Hussain and Lalrindika Ralte playing in the midfield.
Falopa rates Lobo very highly and till now the midfielder hasn’t failed to deliver. So the Brazilian has a point if he decides to leave out Sueoka. Joaquim Abranches is the other player who is in rousing form, but Vashum may pip him to the first XI because he complements Naoba Singh very well.
“I am fit for the match. I do not know why people are saying I am yet to regain full fitness. I have come to this club to be part of the AFC Cup campaign. And yes if I get a chance I will have a point to prove,” Sueoka did not mince his words after a practice session on Monday.
The back-four is more or less settled with Naoba on the right, Maldives match hero Arnab Mondal partnering Uga Okpara and Saumik Dey on the left. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is expected to man the goal as Abhijit Mondal is not 100 per cent fit.
The focus will be on the new striking pair of Moga and Chidi. Much is expected from this duo and as Semen Padang coach said on Monday, the visitors are wary of the twin threat. Moga though put things in a different perspective. “It’s not Uga, or Edeh or James. It’s Team East Bengal who will be playing and India’s prestige will be at stake,” he said.
Unlike East Bengal who are playing this important match at the beginning of the season, Semen Padang have come when they have already played 15 matches in the Indonesian League.
They are on top of the table and looked very confident during the evening practice session. In Edward Junior Wilson, they have a very good striker who can tilt the balance in their favour. The Liberian has scored nine goals so far and will definitely like to add a few more to his tally.
Captain Ellie Aiboy is also a very good midfielder along with Vendry Mofu. Mofu and Titus Bonai were part of the Indonesian national team when Arsenal, Liverpool and Holland came to Jakarta to play some friendly matches.
“We are here to win the match. We won’t sit back and defend. East Bengal are a good side. We respect them but we are prepared to put up a good fight,” coach Jafri Sastra said.
East Bengal’s main worry is the fact that they are not that well prepared. And Uga agrees. “It’s just a beginning of the season. Still we have to wrap up the match tomorrow itself. The away match will be very tough.”
You cannot dispute that.