Calcutta: Ravaged by injuries to key players, East Bengal will be playing the IFA Shield, which begins on Wednesday, for the sake of it. It was thought that East Bengal would be using this tournament as a comeback vehicle after the Federation Cup debacle. But on Tuesday morning, coach Armando Colaco said, in as many words, that he was not giving any importance to this tournament.
And since IFA is the parent body and East Bengal cannot rub it the wrong way, he has acceded to the club officials’ request not to pull out of the tourney.
East Bengal begin their campaign on Wednesday evening at the Barasat Stadium, with a tricky match against Korean team Busan Sun Moon FC. Colaco does not even have an iota of knowledge about his opponents.
“If I had my way, I would not have played this tournament. After the Federation Cup debacle my main target is to win the I-League. Why should I give importance to a tournament like the IFA Shield? Most of the players are injured. So I will have to depend on the reserve bench. The club officials have said they would have no problem if I rest the seniors. So you may see Seimenlen Doungle, Abhra Mondal and Abhishek Das getting starts on Wednesday,” Colaco said after the practice session.
East Bengal’s injury list is quite long. While Uga Okpara is ruled out of the tournament, Harmanjyoth Singh Khabra and Gurwinder Singh may not play the group-stage matches. Naoba Singh also is yet to recover from the injury he sustained during the Federation Cup. James Moga was indisposed on Tuesday, but Colaco said the South Sudanese striker would be fit for the match.
Goalkeeper Gurwinder Singh Sandhu is also nursing a back injury.
Uga, in fact, aggravated his hamstring injury by rushing into things. He should not have played the Federation Cup, but then in Calcutta, things do work differently.
Colaco, though, refused to believe that he could have desisted from playing the Nigerian defender.
“He told me he was fit to play. So I tried him. At some point you have to go by what the player is telling you.” Before the Federation Cup Uga had said he feared his season could be over and would like to skip the trip to Kerala. But then there was a flip-flop and the Nigerian travelled to Manjeri and played all the three matches.
Amidst all the gloom, captain Mehtab Hussain’s return from knee injury is the only good news. But Colaco may try him for the last 15 to 20 minutes only.
Mehtab, though, said he would play only if his team’s going is good against the Korean side. “At this moment I cannot risk to play a tough match. It will take some time. But I am fit,” Mehtab, who injured his knee during East Bengal’s I-League derby against Mohun Bagan on November 24, said.
Busan Sun Moon FC coach Kim Jaesoo has seen some of East Bengal’s matches on video in bits and pieces and found the foreigners impressive. “No. 10 (Edeh Chidi), No. 4 (Uga Okpara) and No. 15 (James Moga) are all good players.
“But my players are even better than them,” he signed off.