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Mehtab blow to Armando

Mehtab Hussain

Calcutta: East Bengal will have to do without Mehtab Hussain in this season’s Federation Cup, which kicks off from January 14 simultaneously in Kochi and Manjeri.

Mehtab, who has been East Bengal’s midfield mainstay over the last few years, sustained a knee injury during the I-League Derby versus Mohun Bagan back on November 24. Since then, he had been out of action.

He was recovering gradually and coach Armando Colaco included in the team for the CFL championship-round tie against Army XI last Sunday to test his match fitness. Mehtab couldn’t carry on till the final whistle and had to be taken off in the 71 st minute.

“I don’t think Mehtab will be able to play in the Federation Cup,” lamented Colaco, after the game against Mohammedan Sporting, on Thursday.

“It’s imperative for a player to be match fit. So, in Mehtab’s case, his match fitness might be questioned even if he has recovered fully from the injury,” he added.

In the initial list of players that was submitted to the All India Football Federation (AIFF), on Wednesday, Mehtab’s name didn’t feature. However, if East Bengal do get past the group stage, chances of Mehtab’s inclusion should brighten, Colaco believes.

“I feel he should be okay by then. There’s still some time to go though,” he said.

No wonder Mehtab’s absence was felt on Thursday, at the Salt Lake Stadium, as Mohammedan Sporting looked more in control of the midfield. The likes of Anthony Soren and Manish Maithani got the better of Harmanjyot Singh Khabra — just recovered from an injury — on most occasions, with Ryuji Sueoka left to do the bulk of the work.

Colaco, however, blames tight schedule for his team’s indifferent show. “I’m not giving any excuses, but it’s not a joke to play continuously… Am just waiting for the bubble to burst. “We have to face this tight schedule because we had only wanted for a break due to the AFC cup schedule. At the end of the day, I’m happy with the result as we’ve been playing on a continuous basis.”