Kochi: Outpaced and out-thought by Churchill Brothers, Mohun Bagan coach Karim Bencharifa cut a forlorn figure at the team dressing room.
Federation Cup was over for Bagan and the Moroccan did not know what hit his team at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, here, on Thursday. “At a loss,” he mumbled. “Probably the first 15 minutes sealed our fate. We had a great tournament till the semi-finals and then those 15 minutes,” the Moroccan said.
Karim conceded that Churchill were the better team on the field. “Yes they played better football, were more organised than us. We were very nervous. This is a young teamů So we lack in experience. I think hype took its toll on the younger players.
“These are the players who won the CFL Derby in front of 80, 000 spectators. And today they got nervous! Still I am proud of my team. We played really well in this tournament,” he said.
Karim said his focus now would be to lift the morale of the team. “Losses like this can be very demoralising. We have to work harder now. IFA Shield is round the corner. My focus now shifts to the IFA Shield,” he said.
Karim refused to blame Katsumi Yusa and Denson Devadas for the loss. The duo failed to dictate terms in the midfield and that put immense pressure on the defence.
Also Katsumi’s failure to keep the supply line going rendered captain Okolie Oadfe helpless upfront.
“I am not those type who would blame the players. It’s a collective failure.”
As Karim was talking to the mediapersons, Okolie Odafe walked in. Probably in a hurry, he did not wait for the team bus. Instead he took an auto and left.
He was limping — the quadricep muscle still pains — and was visibly upset. “Bad day in office,” was the riposte when asked about his take on the match.
Odafe wasn’t ready to talk, but Balwant Singh, Churchill’s hero, was game.
“Season’s best match for me. I am on cloud nine you can say. Scoring against Bagan is a dream come true. Last year was a nightmare as injuries kept me out of football for most of the season. But this season I am fit and performing,” the man, who has scored three goals in the ongoing Federation Cup, said.
“Now my job will be to win the Federation Cup. We have never won this tournament. So that gives me extra motivation,” the Sukhwinder Singh protege said.
Churchill coach Mariano Dias also was all smiles. “A team effort. I am not going to praise someone specifically.
“Everyone contributed. Still, I would say Balwant was too good today. Like I had said in the past, this guy should be in the national team straightaway,” Dias said.
Anthony Wolfe also heaped praise on Balwant. “His movement is very sleek. And understands the game well. He complements me very well.
“Today was a great win and I hope we win this trophy,” Wolfe signed off.