| Subhas Bhowmick supervises East Bengal training (picture left) Sunday morning while Mohammedan Sporting players go through the paces on the eve of the Super Division championship play-off final. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: East Bengal are hungry for revenge as they take on Mohammedan Sporting in the CFL Super Division play-off final on Monday. “Tomorrow is pay-back time,” declared coach Subhas Bhowmick.
“We had committed a sin in our last match (against Mohammedan Sporting) by allowing them to draw level. It’s now time to rise to the occasion and purge that sin,” Bhowmick said after the team’s match-eve practice on Sunday.
“We were 3-1 up and still let Mohammedan Sporting draw level, which resulted in the play-off final. We’ll not repeat those mistakes tomorrow,” commented the coach.
In the Mohammedan Sporting camp, there is a much deeper air of expectation as they prepare for a long-waited honeymoon with history. It’s about asserting that Mohammedan Sporting are back in business.
As coach Mohammed Habeeb said: “We have got something to prove after a long time.”
A long time, indeed. Mohammedan Sporting last won the League way back in 1981.
Habeeb is aware of a historic moment in the making and knows Monday may actually define the first crucial step to his club’s resurrection as a key power.
“We’ll go all out and try to avoid the tie-breaker,” Habeeb said. “East Bengal may be strong contenders but there is no point giving them extra bit of importance because in a knockout match chances are always 50-50.”
However strong the passions and emotions are, both coaches have reasons to believe that there is actually a gap between the cup and the lip.
As Habeeb feared, “the long gap between the last Super Division match (on September 28) and Monday’s tie is bound to affect the players’ performance. A kind of lethargy disturbs their preparation. I think the team which commits lesser number of mistakes in this situation will carry the day.”
The hiatus seems to have had a telling effect on the Mohammedan Sporting supporters as the merry band which usually accompanies the team during the League was conspicuous by its absence during Sunday’s pre-match workout. Monday being a working day may also be a hindrance in attracting crowds to the Salt Lake Stadium. Ticket sales were reportedly poor till this evening.
Abdulateef Seriki is out and Rahim Nabi will operate with Dipendu Biswas in the striking zone for Mohammedan Sporting. Reaj-ul Mustafa will make way for Amandeep Singh in the backline and the arrival of Arunava Sarkar in midfield means Habeeb now has a man to act as a link between attack and defence.
“All big clubs are trophy-oriented. Supporters have high expectations and we hope we won’t let them down,” Dipendu later said.
For Bhowmick, there is as much dilemma as pressure to perform.
The joining of reinforcements like defender Dipak Mondal and playmaker S. Venkatesh to the red-and-gold squad has, in fact, increased the coach’s anxiety.
“There is nothing like match practice. It helps a team gain mobility and fluency. Players like Dipak and Venkatesh are always assets in every coach’s armoury. But I’m doubtful how far my reinforcements will adjust themselves with a set team,” Bhowmick said. “I’m in a real dilemma as to whether I should go for experience or raw speed and enthusiasm”.
He, however, pointed out that his defence now looks more strong and united with the arrival of Dipak and Douglas de Silva. Such assurance in the backline gives the coach the courage to use captain Anit Ghosh as central midfielder. “Anit is not a defender, his ideal position is central midfield”, Bhowmick commented.
Venkatesh, it was learnt, will make his Maidan debut as an attacking midfielder while Malswamtluanga and Subhas Chakraborty will operate along the flanks. Alvito D’Cunha, suffering from some cough problems, may come in as substitute.
Bhowmick, who said Mohammedan Sporting will be treated as a team rather than a force of individuals, did, however, pick out Nabi as “one of the nucleus of future Indian team.”
East Bengal: Sandip Nandy; Surya Bikash Chakraborty, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury, Dipak Mondal, Douglas de Silva, M. Suresh; Malswamtluanga, Anit Ghosh, S. Venkatesh; Mike Okoro, Subhas Chakraborty.
Mohammedan Sporting: Prasanta Dora; Amandeep Singh, Hussain Mustafi, Insan Ali, Biswanath Mondal; Habeeb Adekunle, Amit Das, Arunava Sarkar, Khemtang Paite; Rahim Nabi, Dipendu Biswas.