| East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick with his wards (from left) Bhaichung Bhutia, Douglas da Silva and Mike Okoro during the team’s final workout at the club ground prior to its departure for Jakarta Tuesday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: Subhas Bhowmick claims no Indian club has prepared for an international tournament the way East Bengal have, for the ASEAN Cup which Indonesia is set to host from July 13-26. He is not far from the truth. Why any club, not even the national team has ever been so thorough in its training prior to a major assignment.
Things like hiring a professional physical trainer from abroad, setting up base at a five-star hotel for over a month are unheard of in Indian soccer. East Bengal have set a trend and the results are beginning to show. The real test for Bhowmick, Kevin Jackson and the Bhaichung Bhutias, however, lies in Indonesia.
“We are mentally 100 per cent ready for all comers,” the coach announced after Tuesday’s final workout, just hours before emplaning for Singapore en route to Jakarta.
East Bengal are in group D with Thailand’s BEC Tero Sasana and Philippines’ Army FC. Two teams each from the four preliminary groups will advance to the knockout quarter final stage.
“May be we are not cent per cent physically because we have played so many matches in a short span of time, but I am not complaining. Whatever preparation we have done, I don’t recall any club having ever done likewise, and I am grateful to the officials for providing me with all the tools I needed.”
Bhowmick sees the ASEAN Cup as the biggest challenge of his football life. “Our sport has plunged to its lowest depth in the country… let this tournament be the turning point in Indian football, let it take a 180-degree turn. I want my boys to be the messiahs of Indian football,” Bhowmick said, oozing determination and positive energy.
The charismatic striker of the 70s explained why he was optimistic of East Bengal’s chances. “In my playing days I never lost to any south-east Asian team like Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia or Philippines. Right now we’re inferior to them only mentally. Actually, they are on a par with us and there’s no reason why we can’t beat them.”
BEC Tero Sasana will be East Bengal’s first rivals next Monday. The Thai team has gone from strength to strength this season, and booked a berth in the AFC Champions League final. But Bhowmick just refuses to think negative.
He even ‘rebuked’ an official who was waxing eloquent about the Thai club sitting beside him at the press conference. “I believe my boys have the will power to pass all examinations. They are fully focussed… they’ll be donning East Bengal colours but will have the tricolour in their heart.”
Even if East Bengal lose to the Thai outfit, they can still qualify for the last eight with a victory over Filipino side Army FC on July 16.
Captain Suley Musah endorsed Bhowmick’s sentiments. “It’s a great pleasure to be part of this team. Each player is charged up to do well. We are not thinking about how our opponents will play… we will go out there to prove that good football is played in India too,” said the Ghanaian whose recent goal-scoring form is a big bonus for East Bengal.
It was not difficult to see that Bhowmick’s positive energy had rubbed off on his wards as well. That, now, has to reflect on performance on foreign soil.
GROUP A: Petrokimia Putra (Indonesia), Finance & Revenue (Myanmar), Samart United (Cambodia).
GROUP B: Armed Forces (Singapore), Perak (Malaysia), DPMM FC (Brunei).
GROUP C: Persita Tangerang (Indonesia), Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL, Vietnam), Telecom & Transportation (Laos).
GROUP D: BEC Tero Sasana (Thailand), East Bengal (India), Army FC (Philippines).
PRELIMINARY ROUND — July 13: Petrokima vs Finance & Revenue; Armed Forces vs Perak. July 14: Persita vs HAGL; East Bengal vs Tero Sasana. July 15: Finance & Revenue vs Samart; Perak vs DPMM. July 16: HAGL vs Telecom & Transportation; East Bengal vs Army FC. July 17: Samart vs Petrokimia; DPMM vs Armed Forces. July 18: Telecom & Transportation vs Persita; Army FC vs Tero Sasana.
QUARTER FINALS — July 20: A1 vs B2; B1 vs A2. July 21: C1 vs D2; D1 vs C2.
SEMI-FINALS — July 24: Winners of A1-B2 vs winners of C1-D2; winners of B1-A2 vs winners of D1-C2.
FINAL & THIRD PLACE PLAY-OFF — July 26.