| East Bengal players gear up at home Saturday, on the eve of their NFL opener against Tollygunge Agragami
Calcutta, Nov. 16: East Bengal have had a great season till now, sweeping up everything that has come their way. But their greatest challenge awaits them on Sunday, when they take off on their National Football League (NFL) journey against Tollygunge Agragami at the Salt Lake Stadium.
The red-and-gold brigade’s crowning glory after annexing the Independence Cup in Nagaon was the Calcutta Football League triumph.
However, it is precisely this dream run that has East Bengal coach Subhash Bhowmick’s forehead creased with worry. On the eve of their NFL launch, complacency has Bhowmick bothered. “True, we have been playing well, but that shouldn’t make the players feel high. They should have their feet firmly on the ground,” Bhowmick said.
Commenting on his team’s preparation, Bhowmick said, “We’ve worked hard and I can only hope that the team is in good shape.”
Despite the wariness, a big relief for the coach is that the East Bengal nucleus is in very good shape. “We have been playing as team and a proper nucleus has also formed. Moreover, the real strength of my team lies in the reserve bench,” Bhowmick added.
The maverick centre-forward of yesteryears doesn’t appear to be in favour of chopping and changing too much. “I don’t like tinkering around with the combination too much. They will play in the same format as was followed in the play-off of the CFL,” was all Bhowmick would say.
The only change would be the exit of stopper Suresh from the starting XI. He would be replaced by Ghanaian Suley Musah. “Musah is currently observing the Ramzan fast and is a bit weak, but he knows to tackle the pressure situations.”
Bhowmick sounded quite happy with the other foreigners in the teamtoo. “Okoro and Douglas have already proved themselves. Gilmer, the Brazilian striker (who joined Saturday), also has a very good bio-data.”
Meanwhile, Tollygunge Agragami coach Aloke Mukherjee made no bones about the fact that East Bengal would be the clear favourites for Sunday’s game. “They are a very strong team and we have our task cut out,” he said. Talking about his own team, he said, “We’ll play in the 4-4-2 formation, but it’s up to the players to create formations on the field.”
Moreover, the Tollygunge authorities sounded a little worried about the absence of a couple of foreigners. “The International Transfer Certificates of Moses and Jesus didn’t arrive on time, so they won’t be available for Sunday’s game,” the club secretary informed.
East Bengal: Sandip Nandy; Surya Bikash Chakraborty, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury, Dipak Mondal, Douglas de Silva; Suley Musah, S. Malswamtluanga, Anit Ghosh, Shasthi Duley, S. Venkatesh, Mike Okoro
Tollygunge Agragami: Gopal Das; Manas Das, Dipayan Majumdar, Isiaka Awoyemi, Debkumar Sashmol; Mehtab Hossain, Sandip Das, Sujoy Dutta, Srikanta Dutta; Akeem Abolanle, Ashim Biswas