|Marcos Falopa and Mehtab Hussain, on their arrival at the city airport, on Wednesday
Calcutta: Scripting history by securing an AFC Cup semi-final berth for the very first time, the homecoming couldn’t have been a better one for East Bengal.
Fans, though not in large numbers, thronged the airport to welcome their heroes. But Marcos Falopa’s men are careful about not getting carried away by the atmosphere or with the success.
The competition only gets tougher from hereon, stressed James Moga, whose late equaliser — on Tuesday, in Padang — ensured East Bengal’s qualification to the last-four stage. “It’s not just about East Bengal… It’s about playing for India,” reminded the South Sudanese striker.
“It only gets tougher as the competition becomes far more intense now. Our next game will be a very difficult one because our opponents (Kuwait SC) are more experienced when it comes to playing in this competition.
“They are the holders. Our task, thus, is cut out. Moreover, we have an even bigger responsibility because the East Bengal team will be playing for India in the semis,” Moga said after the team’s arrival on Wednesday evening.
Playing very few matches this season before their AFC Cup assignment did affect the team’s performance in the quarter final. But according to Moga, East Bengal do have the ammunition to battle against all odds.
“The teams we faced so far weren’t that strong. The problem was more ours yesterday that the game looked difficult.
“We didn’t play enough matches going into the quarter final. This could well be a factor going against us in the semi-final. That said, we need to deal with it and fight it out. I believe we will. And as we all know, anything’s possible in football,” he asserted.
For captain Mehtab Hussain, it was certainly an occasion to savour. At the same time, he urged teammates to avoid complacency. “As a captain, I’m really proud to have led the team to the AFC Cup semi-final. This will be there in the record books.
“But we should remember that we just cannot afford to be complacent. There’s still plenty of work to do,” Mehtab emphasised.
Absence of Ryuji Sueoka, who’s ruled out with a knee injury, is certainly a worry for East Bengal as they get ready for Kuwait SC in the first-leg, on October 1, in Kuwait City.
However, the Kuwaiti outfit, too, will have to do without their reliable defender Yaqoub Al Taher, who was red-carded in Tuesday’s quarter final return-leg tie against New Radiant. Kuwait SC won 5-0 (aggregate 12-2).
“Yes, Sueoka will be missed. He will be out of action for at least 15 days. But the fact that we’ll play the second-leg at home is an advantage for us. If we can carve out something positive from our away tie, we should definitely be in with a very good chance,” coach Falopa said.
As of now, there shouldn’t be any complaint over the start Falopa has had in filling in the shoes of Trevor James Morgan. “I have my regards for Morgan and thank him for his wishes. But it’s my time now in East Bengal… My time…” he commented.
No wonder Falopa is high on confidence at present. And if the smiles persist even after October 22 — their second-leg semi-final clash against Kuwait SC — it will surely be the Brazilian’s reign in East Bengal.