| East Bengal players during a practice session, on Friday. A Telegraph picture |
Calcutta: It’s not done and dusted yet!
Arch-rivals East Bengal and Mohun Bagan will have something to play for when they clash in Saturday’s CFL Derby, here, at the Salt Lake Stadium despite the title being sealed in the red-and-gold brigade’s favour.
Both teams are aware that the consequences could be far-reaching depending upon the result of this game. With barely three days to go for the Federation Cup, East Bengal and Bagan would certainly like to keep themselves fully prepared. And a victory on Saturday will certainly go a long way in helping them in their endeavour.
The two teams will also play for pride and bragging rights since no team likes to end up on the losing side in a Derby.
To be honest, both sides are aware of the fact that a poor show in the Derby — irrespective of its importance — could seriously hit the team morale, going into the Federation Cup.
As far as Bagan are concerned, beating their arch-rivals would do a world of good to their confidence and could also serve as the ideal tonic to approach the rest of the season. Even their supporters came in numbers at the club ground on Friday to encourage the Okolie Odafes.
Contrary to the atmosphere at Bagan, the scenes at East Bengal ground, on match eve, gave little impression that they would be playing a Derby the very next day. Barring an eager German scholar, keen to learn more about high-octane encounters throughout the world, there were only a handful of supporters present during the team’s practice session.
Still one can be pretty certain that East Bengal will not be short of support on Derby day. As for the players, they will be eager to sign off with a win as that will surely make the taste of their first title in the season sweeter.
Players know it well that an unfavourable result will again create unnecessary panic and tension in the camp, threatening to bring back those turbulent times that rocked East Bengal during Marcos Falopa’s tenure as coach.
Coach Armando Colaco, too, has been asked to join the team before the Derby gets underway.
Now coming to the teams, both Bagan and East Bengal will field their strongest possible XI and will try to work out on the combination for one last time before the Federation Cup.
Laying emphasis on strengthening their defence, Karim Bencharifa is likely to include Aniychie Echezona besides fullback Rowilson Rodrigues, while CS Sabeeth is set to partner Okolie Odafe up front.
Ram Malik, who has been Bagan’s find of the season, will not be fielded. Pankaj Moula is likely to take his place.
Precisely, looking at the opponents’ present form, Bencharifa feels his defenders and midfielders must co-ordinate properly should they thwart East Bengal and deny them space, particularly to unleash long-rangers.
East Bengal, too, are pretty much aware that every time Lalrindika Ralte’s pile-drivers won’t be on target and be the difference in big matches. They want to go in well-armed, but injuries to Harmanjyot Singh Khabra (heel) and Naoba Singh seem to make the team management look at other options as well.
If Khabra and Naoba do miss out, Subodh Kumar and young Abhishek Das may make the cut. Besides, the possibilities of Edeh Chidi getting a start instead of Ryuji Sueoka or even the in-form James Moga cannot be ruled out either.
So, with both camps still working out on combinations and related stuff, can the Derby still be labelled as inconsequential?