Calcutta: East Bengal have decided to rest five players from the squad that played in the AFC Cup semi-final against Kuwait SC, in Kuwait City, for their I-League opener against Lajong FC in Shillong.
Captain Mehtab Hussain will not accompany the side to Shillong. The others who have been rested are Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Soumik Dey, Arnab Mondal and Naoba Singh when the team departs on Sunday morning.
Abhra Mondal, Abhishek Das, Seiminlen Doungel and Subodh Kumar will replace them in the squad for Wednesday’s match.
The focus may be on East Bengal’s return leg match against Kuwait SC at the Salt Lake Stadium on October 22, but coach Marcos Falopa reminded the players that I-League was equally important. The players seemed aware of their responsibilities.
Fatigue seems to be East Bengal’s major worry now and the five players have been rested keeping in mind this factor.
“The I-League will be tough… I know it’s hard for the players keeping in mind the constant travelling they have had to go through in the past few days…
“So the decision to rest some players. However, the good thing is that there are no injury worries,” said Falopa, after practice at their home ground on Saturday.
Falopa is aware that Lajong FC will be tough opponents and East Bengal haven’t won against them in the last three years.“It’s a difficult situation,” he said. “We’ll try our best for a positive result. I respect the Shillong team… I know it’s not going to be easy.”
Falopa acknowledged that playing both the AFC Cup and the I-League was challenging on the players and the support staff.
“It’s a huge challenge… But we have to cope with it. This sort of situation happens everywhere… We have to deal with it. All tournaments are important and we have to play according to the situation.”
Edeh Chidi also echoed the coach’s sentiments. “Both AFC Cup and I-League are important… I-League is very important for the club and the supporters. We haven’t won it for many years…” the striker said.
Chidi, too, seemed concerned about the hectic travelling. “Most of us are very tired. There’s so much travelling… It bound to take a toll on our body. This is a major problem…”
He is aware of Lajong’s strengths. “Beating Lajong in Shillong won’t be easy… They are a strong outfit.”
Chidi felt East Bengal had the advantage in the AFC Cup semi-final return leg. “Scoring two goals in Kuwait is a big plus… We can win here given the support we’ll enjoy… Kuwait SC are a good side, but not too strong… We can definitely make the final.”
Ryuji Sueoka is unlikely to be fit for the return leg semi-final. He has been ruled out for six to eight weeks after injuring his knee during the quarter final away-leg match against Semen Padang.
“It just can’t be helped… I’m happy for the others… We’ll have to take one match at a time… For now, the focus has to remain on the Lajong match,” said the Japanese recruit.