| Sheikh Sanjib helps Dipendu Biswas stretch on the eve of the Federation Cup final at the Mohammedan Sporting ground on Friday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: The final of the Tata Federation Cup Saturday evening is being looked upon as a fine re-launch pad for two teams who have not tasted any big victory for some time now. For Mohammedan Sporting it could be a return to the elite class, while for Mahindra United it could act as a boost to its consolidation process that has lifted them from the sidelines to centrestage.
The general approach is cautious, both coaches seeing a 50-50 situation. Coach Mohammed Habeeb feels a 4-4-2 formation could be useful — he has to replace Habib Adekunle (red card) and medio Khalid Siddiqui (two bookings) with Satish Bharti and Madhav Das — but that’s not the main worry. It is the Mahindra half line.
Technical Advisor P.K. Banerjee, who will not be around during the match, said this (the half line) would be the biggest hurdle that “the team has to work around,” to get to its goal. And David Booth, Mahindra’s coach from Yorkshire, says he has to see to it that his team works and plays like one. “It will be a big test for my boys — not the victory part of it, but the sheer football and teamwork part of it,” he said.
Mohammedan Sporting have had a good run after PK instilled in the players a craving to perform and the self-belief that it was possible. Looking to this, the club was trying to not let PK go for the Arjuna meeting Saturday. But, having failed in that, his “message” or ‘vocal tonic’, will be available on tape. Club secretary Sultan Ahmed said: “This is a new concept. The tape will be played to the players before they take to the field. I am sure it will create an impact.”
On the field, Habeeb says he isn’t too worried of what Mahindra can do, but of what his boys can deliver. “We need to keep our ears to the ground and spot the changes in the rival attitude,” he said. He is pinning hopes on Dipendu Biswas, but more importantly, he feels Rahim Nabi, who has overcome his injury problems, can provide the right impetus. The 4-4-2 may not be an attacking format, but the very nature of the match could be a trifle wary either side of the half line.
Booth was a bit cut up, that his team was denied morning practice — “people at the SAI wouldn’t let us in at 7.15 am and we were then taken to a field outside Salt Lake Stadium which was too dirty to even walk on,” — and he had to be restricted to knockabouts at the hotel poolside.
“This has not allowed me to practice the way I wanted to… However, tomorrow we expect a good challenge with a speedy team that is high on self-belief.”
IFA secretary Subrata Dutta denied that Mahindra were denied practice. He said: “Practice pitches were many and were booked from 8.30am and not from 6.45am (is when he says the team went to SAI), and when they asked for an alternative ground they were finally assigned the fine turf at Central Park. This they refused and later said it was all part of strategy.”
Not a very common logic, what Mahindra manager Henry Menezes put forth.
Meanwhile, Booth said he would surely be keeping an eye out on the potential dangermen, “but this is a meet that will let me do the bonding that I have been attempting with the players for the seven weeks that I have been with them. I can’t wait to get back from this meet and start off with my boys for three months, preparing for the big League.”
Booth is lucky that he has no card or injury worries. He is happy with his defence, too, especially with Odartey Lawson and Arun Malhotra (who is now fit). His key man, surely will be James Singh with Raphael Akakpo (“who has developed a great understanding with James”) taking in the frontside load. “Maybe I’ll bring in Avishek Yadav, later… Avishek is unlucky that he does not find a place in the first team. He has to beat very good players to get in,” said the coach, who believes that his team has yet to reach “50 per cent of the passing prowess that I want.”
Mohammedan Sporting (from): K.M. Refeek; Amjad Ali Khan, Hussain Mustafi, Satish Bharti, Amandeep Singh; Bungo Singh, Shahnawaz Khan, Madhav Das, Rahim Nabi, Arjan Ali; Dipendu Biswas, Sheikh Sanjib, L. Akbar Singh.
Mahindra United (from): Sunder Rajan; Odartey Lawson, Jintu Jose, Covan Lawrence, Arun Malhotra; Sanjay Parte, Rauf Khan, Khalid Jameel, Jules Alberto, S. Venkatesh; James Singh, Raphael Akakpo, Avishek Yadav.