|Uga Okpara and Lalrindika Ralte, at the city airport, on Thursday. Telegraph pictures
Calcutta: Not many fans were present at around 8pm on Thursday evening when the East Bengal players started trickling out of the airport.
That was a little unexpected considering how passionate the East Bengal fans are. True, the team were not returning winners from Kuwait, but their 2-4 loss doesn’t narrate the true story. They deserved heroes’ welcome for the fight they put up and the two away goals they are bringing home.
But the players themselves were not much disheartened with the damp welcome and, despite the tiresome journey, have their eyes set on the return leg on October 22.
From the 64-year-old Marcos Falopa to the 21-year-old Lalrindika Ralte, everyone is upbeat about making the AFC Cup final. As captain Mehtab Hussain pointed out: “We do fancy our chances.”
The following are excerpts
Marcos Falopa: Well, I’m reasonably happy with the effort put in by the players, which ensures we’ll have a good chance in the return leg. Opinions about our strategy in Tuesday’s match can vary, but it was quite simple as far as I’m concerned.
Playing away from home, and that too in such a crucial match, one first needs to have a measure of the opposition, especially when they are a quality side. Trying to do something out of the box could well have made matters worse. Nonetheless, scoring two away goals is a big advantage going into the home encounter. But having said that, we can’t afford to take things easy at all. It will be a blunder if we do so.
The going won’t be easy because at the end of the day, Kuwait SC are a very good side. We must keep that in mind. Also, had certain decisions not gone against us in the first leg, the result could have been much better. I hope the same doesn’t happen on October 22.
We also have some I-League matches to play before the return leg. We must perform well there so that our rhythm is not affected.
Mehtab Hussain: We need to make sure we don’t make silly mistakes. Those mistakes were one of the major reasons behind our loss in the first leg. If we get our basics right, we can always beat them… I’m sure.
The way we performed the other evening, we showed that we can dominate proceedings even against a very strong side. So beating them is not at all impossible… And now that we’ll be playing at home, we do fancy our chances. If we play like the way we did in the second half, I’m pretty confident of our victory.
Uga Okpara: With the team 0-4 down, I felt I must do my part. The ball was in my zone and I went up for the header and fortunately for our team, it found the target. I would’ve been happier had my strike been the winning goal. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Anyway, it’s no use crying over spilt milk. We still have the return leg to play and since it will be our home match, we must ensure we take full advantage of it. Another thing we need to remember is that we shouldn’t concede any goal this time around. Our job won’t be very easy because Kuwait SC are a very good side. But we have to rise to the occasion.
Lalrindika Ralte: I came to know that I touched Bhaichung Bhutia’s record (of four goals in AFC Cup)... It’s a great feeling when you find yourself on a par with a great player.
I can’t say whether me being in the starting XI would have made any difference or not. But I was determined to give my best and deliver once the coach asked me to get ready during half-time. I do have a knack of finding opportunities to unleash long-rangers. If you ask me, the goal I scored the other day and the one against Selangor in the group stages of the competition are the two of my best strikes.
At the moment, I only hope I put in an even better show as we’ll enjoy more advantage playing at home.