The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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East Bengal in injury void

Calcutta: History has an uncanny way of completing its circle.

Last year, it was East Bengal — omnipotent and omnipresent — snapping up the top podium place wherever they had gone to play in domestic circles. Much of their awe-inspiring success has since been attributed to a solid, robust bench strength — always on their toes to help the team tide over crisis after crisis.

That aura of invincibility has, however, taken a battering since the red-and-gold’s historic win in the ASEAN Club Championship in Jakarta about four months back. Mahindra United, in the interregnum, have developed themselves into a position of strength, becoming the first team from Mumbai to lay their hands on the coveted Federation Cup.

Come Wednesday, the two sides will cross swords over supremacy in a battle for the Super Cup. The contrast between the teams is glaring. While the National Football League champions East Bengal have been hit hard by injuries to key players, the Mumbai club is struggling to pick a playing XI from a vast repertoire of players.

“I don’t know who will be available tomorrow. The only thing I’m aware of is that I’m going to miss as many as seven players who took part in the Jakarta meet,” East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick said on Tuesday in a voice that hardly exuded confidence.

Against such a worried perspective, let’s turn to the Mahindra coach David Booth, and here’s his take: “Choosing the XI is difficult for me. There are so many players and all of them are in good nick.”

“I’ve all along been experimenting by way of rotating the players. It is near complete and tomorrow’s match will be my final preparation before going after the National League,” commented Booth. “If my team wins, it will set up a perfect platform for us in the premier tournament,” he further added.

Bhowmick must be discovering his own image in Booth’s words. With his odyssey and ordeal of maintaining a winning momentum having had a fair share of vicissitudes since a roaring return from Jakarta, the prevailing situation offers him no hortative dose of comfort. Bhaichung Bhutia arrived here from Sikkim in the evening, but the coach, when contacted later, was unsure about his availability. Besides, six others — Mike Okoro, Douglas da Silva, Dipak Mondal, M. Suresh, Bijen Singh and S. Malswamtluanga, who had played their part to the T in Jakarta — are set to miss the tie through injuries.

As Bhowmick put it: “It’s a desperate situation and I can only hope I’ll get the rub of the green. But realistically speaking, it’s not an easy game and Mahindra are one of the best teams in current form.”

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