|Uga Okpara (from left), Mehtab Hussain and Edeh Chidi, at the club ground, on Monday.
A Telegraph picture
Calcutta: As Edeh Chidi came out of the ground after a two-hour strenuous practice session, a motley group of East Bengal fans swarmed over him.
They asked him to score two within the first quarter of the return leg AFC Cup semi-final clash against Kuwait SC and seal a berth in the final. Chidi, generally very reluctant, flashed a smile and said, “yes definitely.”
Chidi might have said that just to please the fans, but deep down he and every East Bengal player knows they face a tall order on Tuesday. The red and gold brigade lost the first leg 2-4, but got two vital away goals which kept them in contention.
And overcoming that 0-2 deficit against the defending champions will be a Herculean task. Still, it’s not impossible for a team which is dreaming to create history at the Salt Lake Stadium.
“They are a very good side… We are aware of that. They played well in the first leg, but we have a 2-0 advantage… And that says it all,” Kuwait SC’s Romanian coach Marin Ion was candid at the pre-match media conference.
Kuwait SC were a bit lax after they took a 4-0 goal lead in the first-leg and East Bengal punished them with those two goals. East Bengal are taking lot of positives from that.
With the 60,000-strong crowd rooting for their favourite team, Mehtab Hussain & Co. may upset the Kuwaiti team. But for that, they have to be focused throughout the match.
“East Bengal should not think much about the result. They should concentrate on the match. I wish them all the best…
“This is big match for everyone who loves East Bengal,” former coach Trevor James Morgan told The Telegraph from Perth.
East Bengal’s problem has been their defence. On October 1, coach Marcos Falopa’s ploy to go for the off-side trap back-fired as the Uga Okparas allowed the Issam Jemaas to bang in three inside the first 45 minutes.
On Tuesday, an off-form Naoba Singh will be replaced by young Abhishek Das as the right back. This youngster was very impressive against Lajong FC and Falopa is right in giving him this big break.
East Bengal frontline also hasn’t yet fired the way fans would have wanted. James Moga might have scored the important goal at Semen Padang and a brace against Lajong, but other than that, there is hardly anything to write home about. Moga, who is laid low by a tooth ache, skipped the practice session and spent the time at the gym.
Chidi also is a pale shadow of what he was last season. He missed a sitter against Kuwait SC and failed to convert a penalty in the Dempo match. “Strikers do miss chances… That’s pretty normal. What we forget is that Chidi is a player who has the ability to make the difference,” senior pro Alvito D’Cunha said.
If Alvito is banking on Chidi to deliver, Kuwait SC are pining their hopes on Jemaa and Brazilian recruit Rogerio. Rogerio was surprisingly replaced early in the second half in the first leg. On Tuesday though, expect him to play the full match. Ion will not take any chance this time around.
This Brazilian is extremely skilful and complements Jemaa very well. Jemaa, the Tunisian international, has already scored 15 goals in this competition, including a brace against East Bengal. He is tall and has the knack of poaching a mile if you yield an inch.
“He alone can destroy us. We have to be very careful,” a wary Saumik Dey said.
Then, Kuwait SC have a very creative midfield with Jemaa’s compatriot Chadi Hammami and Waleed Ali playing with freedom and making fluid movements.
This will make East Bengal’s task all the more difficult in marking them. Herein Mehtab and Cavi Lobo come into the picture. Both of them will have to play out of their skins at the centre of the park. Kuwait SC full backs are always encouraged to get forward at every opportunity and Falopa will surely ask Lalrindika Ralte and Joaquim Abranches to make the most of the space. Ralte did the same when he scored that brilliant second goal at Kuwait City. “He will score one more,” Alvito predicted.
Millions of East Bengal fans will be hoping Alvito’s statement becomes prophetic.
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