New Delhi: A little over three years ago, East Bengal met Salgaocar in the final of the Durand Cup football tournament.
After an action-packed match, which remained goalless even in extra time, Salgaocar triumphed 3-2 in the penalty shoot-out. The two teams met again in the league phase last February and East Bengal won 2-1.
The two meet again on Wednesday in the semi-finals of this edition. East Bengal have a psychological advantage having beaten the Goans 2-1 in the National League in Calcutta less than a month ago.
This time, however, both sides are depleted. East Bengal are without eight key players, four are doing duty in India’s South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup team and four are injured. Salgaocar are also without five key players, Roberto Fernandez and Climax Lawrence in the SAFF Cup team and defenders Manitombi Singh and Jos Esteves and midfielder Tomba Singh injured.
Both teams will play in the 4-4-2 system. Both rely on their African strikers for goals. East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick has indicated that Nigerian Mike Okoro will play while Gilmar will sit out. Salgaocar coach Savio Madeira is still uncertain about fielding either Liberian Sunday Seah or Nigerian Dudu Omagbemi who scored a hat-trick against Assam Regimental Centre, Shillong on Monday. The crafty Seah may get the nod.
Bhowmick’s other area of uncertainty is about Okoro’s striking partner. His options are either K. Kulothungan or Trijit Das. Kulothungan could play as a deep lying striker, with Okoro as the lone frontrunner.
There will be some fascinating individual duels as well. The most crucial will be Douglas De Silva’s attempts to shackle either Seah or Dudu. As Okoro plays a roving game, Salgaocar will use either junior international midfielder Bungo Singh or central defender Covan Lawrence to curb East Bengal’s main threat.
Both teams have a lively midfield quartet while the back four of both sides is relatively inexperienced. So an open match with lots of goalmouth action and attacking play will be seen. However Madeira and Bhowmick are taking no chances and have trained a set of five players in case of a penalty shoot-out.
The semi-final will be shown live on DD Sports from 2.30 pm.