| East Bengal stars Douglas de Silva, Alvito D'Cunha and Mike Okoro work out at the club ground Thursday, on the eve of their crunch National League encounter with Vasco. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: The onset of what threatens to be a testing summer has dried up the queue of fans eagerly awaiting an East Bengal triumph in the Oil PSU National Football League. But there is some juice left in the competition yet, which promises an absorbing penultimate round in Indiaís premier football tournament.
East Bengal need just a point from two matches to end a perfect season with aplomb. The stage seems to be set for them to kill the contest Friday and then party in Goa before and after Mondayís final match against Salgaocar. The only problem is, they have to contend with another set of Goans ó from Vasco ó before that.
Vasco are no ordinary visitors. They too can snatch the title if they win the two remaining matches including the one against East Bengal.
After sniffing their chance, when East Bengal lost in the 18th and 19th rounds, Vasco have gone for it and that earnest becomes evident from the fact they have scored 22 goals in the last five matches, including 13 in the last two.
They know that the pressure is on the home team. Not just because the burden of expectation is more on them, but there is also an apprehension that failure at this juncture will put a permanent question mark over their temperament and ability to handle pressure.
But the mood on match eve in the East Bengal camp didnít suggest they are under too much pressure. The recent defeats have discharged some burnt fuel and they are fresh again to finish it off now.
East Bengal are leading the table with 46 points from 20 matches. Vasco are third at 40 after 20.
East Bengal have won everything this season and coach Subhas Bhowmick has taken a lot of care in building an all-round unit with equally efficient spare parts.
A solid, no-nonsense defence and midfield by Indian standards with the right dose of foreign muscle just where itís required, East Bengal have a host of players to choose from.
Suley Musah, the pillar of strength who can be used in various parts of the field, is set to form the three-man deep defence alongside Dipak Mondal and M. Suresh. Brazilian spoiler Douglas da Silva, often useful up front, will lead midfield activities and further ahead, Alvito DíCunha and Mike Okoro will have the responsibility of scoring. Okoro, the Nigerian trying to settle in Poland, is fighting for the top-scorerís prize with Churchill Brothersí Ghanaian recruit Yusif Yakubu. DíCunha has also had a successful year and more good show is certain to earn him a hike next season.
Vasco, however, are keen to play the party poopers. With the successful Brazilian pair of Marcos Perreira and Ruis Wanderlei Weis coming good up front, Vasco can score against good sides.
Like East Bengal, they too prefer playing 3-5-2, with Marcos moving up from midfield as main striker.
The teams have met twice this season and the first-leg National League match ended 1-1 in Goa, while East Bengal emerged 2-0 winners in the IFA Shield encounter here.
Even though it will suffice for east Bengal, another draw seems an unlikely outcome in Fridayís match. It also promises to be a good one. Both teams have a lot to play for.