| Mohun Bagan’s Jose Ramirez Barreto (picture top) stretches in morning practice on Wednesday, while East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick explains strategy to Douglas da Silva (left in picture above) and Debjit Ghosh. Pictures by Santosh Ghosh and Pabitra Das
Calcutta: Struggling to sort out their off-field histrionics, Mohun Bagan run into the East Bengal juggernaut once again — in Thursday’s Super Division League championship round fixture.
It is a match Mohun Bagan have to win to ignite hopes of having a crack at the title as a draw will keep East Bengal well ahead. The teams play five matches each in the Super Six stage and East Bengal lead Mohun Bagan by five points. The difference has to be below three for a play-off final.
So it means Mohun Bagan have a lot to play for, although the recent past looms large over the present. Sadly for Mohun Bagan, all they can gain from it is a reminder of what they don’t want.
A 0-3 thrashing in the previous match against their traditional rivals, East Bengal’s enviable run — the recent record can’t put Mohun Bagan in a good frame of mind.
But it can inspire them to go out and change the course of things. “It’s time to show guts. Reputation doesn’t matter. The mentally stronger will prevail,” coach Aloke Mukherjee pointed out.
If the Mohun Bagan coach is concerned about the psychological factor, it has to be said it’s advantage East Bengal in this regard. Confidence comes with success and a glance at the record of the last 15 months leaves no doubt over who has had more of it.
And it’s not without reason that East Bengal start clear favourites in Thursday’s match too. A solid and tested defence, enough spoliers in midfield, good distribution and variety from that region as well. To cap it all, a consistent scorer in Mike Okoro and East Bengal are ahead of rivals even in the absence of Bhaichung Bhutia and Alvito D’Cunha.
Mohun Bagan show up starkly in contrast. There is this ball-charmer from Brazil called Jose Ramirez Barreto and also a much-matured Rennedy Singh but elsewhere, there is little of note. Things have not been helped by Basudeb Mondal’s ill health and Marcos Parreira — the other Brazilian — has yet to prove himself against quality opposition.
The hope, still, is not dying.
“I believe it’s a 50-50 match. East Bengal are not unbeatable. All we need is some extra push and must stop committing silly mistakes like we did in the previous match. This match will surely be different from the earlier one,” opined captain Rennedy.
“It’s an opportunity to turn the tide. A win will change everything. We must take advantage of the absence of Bhaichung and Alvito. In any case, we are much better prepared than what we were last time,” said Mohun Bagan’s lifeline Barreto.
The East Bengal coach is sensing this urge in the Mohun Bagan camp. “The ball is in their court. The onus is on them,” said Subhas Bhowmick, adding he is preparing for the “toughest” match so far this season. “I have told my players ASEAN Club Championship is history, forget that and go out to make another history.”
East Bengal: Sandip Nandy, M. Suresh, Mahesh Gawli, Dipak Mondal, Douglas da Silva, Debjit Ghosh, Sur Kumar Singh, Shylo Malsawmtluanga, Sashthi Duley, Dipankar Roy, Mike Okoro.
Mohun Bagan: Prasanta Dora, Debkumar Sashmal, Sandip Maria/Babun Kar, Rishi Kapoor, Lolendra Singh, Mehtab Hossain, Rennedy Singh, Hardip Gill, Hardip Saini, Jose Ramirez Barreto, Marcos Parreira.