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Odds are in favour of EB

Calcutta: Defending champions East Bengal begin their Calcutta Football League Championship Round campaign on Sunday when they take on Mohammedan Sporting at the Salt Lake Stadium.

The CFL gives an opportunity to coach Armando Colaco to test some of his juniors and on Sunday, the likes of Jiten Murmu and Deepak Tirkey will get a chance to prove their mettle.

On paper, East Bengal are far ahead of their rivals, but tell this to Colaco, he just gives a shrug. By his own admission, he doesn’t have an iota of knowledge about the Mohammedan Sporting of this season. Interestingly, during the set-pieces at the morning practice session, Colaco told his wards to just keep the shape and be organised.

“I have not seen them play. So, I do not know what to expect. I am told they have a couple of foreigners… That’s about it… I told the players during the set-pieces to just keep the shape,” he said during the pre-match media conference at the club tent on Saturday.

Colaco, however, clarified that by saying he has no idea about Mohammedan Sporting, he does not mean he is being disrespectful. “It’s just that I am too much involved with my team. I did not get the time to keep an eye on the preparations of other teams.”

Rival coach Fuja Tope, though, has that advantage. When East Bengal was practising at the Salt Lake Stadium on Friday morning, he was there at the stands watching his Sunday opponents.

Colaco is really excited about his youngsters, but pleaded to be patient with them. “Sunday will be their first match. They will be nervous.

“So, they may not be able to perform to their potential. I have told them just to go out and enjoy,” the man who did a half-Monty after Tirkey scored from a free-kick.

Jiten will be in the upfront, partnering senior pro Ranty Martins and it will be interesting to see how they perform. Ranty is nursing an ankle injury, but the news is he will play.

Tirkey will be the right-half, and how he complements Abhishek Das will be another interesting aspect of the match. Even at the heart of the defence, dependable Arnab Mondal will be with Safar Sardar who has been on the fringe for too long. Mohammedan Sporting this season haven’t gone for big names unlike last year.

This time around, there are a couple of known faces like Ashim Biswas and Naseem Akhtar. Otherwise it’s a bunch of unknowns. “It’s easier to work with youngsters… They do not come with baggage,” Tope remarked.

Mohammedan Sporting did have a problem dealing with the star players and even though they won the IFA Shield and Durand Cup, they were relegated from the I-League. Tope, however, says the pressure is less. “People are not expecting much from us. So, that’s an advantage.”

And will there be an upset. Tope is optimistic. “If they slip, then we will punish them,” he said.