Calcutta: East Bengal coach Armando Colaco refused to believe that his team’s I-League campaign is over.
Addressing a chaotic joint press conference, which was also attended by team captain Mehtab Hussain, Mohun Bagan coach Karim Bencharifa and captain Shilton Paul, Colaco said: “The I-League is still not over for us. Yes, we are having difficulties…
“There is miscommunication amongst the players… But we are very much in the title-race. Three points on Saturday and all this negative talks will stop,” Colaco said.
Colaco said there is hardly any difference amongst the teams. “There is no difference in quality between us and Bengaluru FC or Sporting Clube de Goa. “It’s just about who plays well on a particular day. Today, Mohammedan Sporting defeated Sporting Clube. I think you people got what I am trying to say,” he said.
Colaco revealed Uga Okpara will be in the 18-man squad, but did not reveal whether he would get a start. Okpara, who flew in from Nigeria only on Thursday late evening, had a practice session along with teammates. But it is very unlikely that he would start. “Uga looked fit… I am happy with what I saw today. Yes, he will be in the 18-man squad,” Colaco informed.
If there’s Okpara boost for East Bengal, Bagan will be without their captain Okolie Odafa. Colaco, however, reminded that Odafa’s absence doesn’t mean East Bengal defence will have it easy.
“They have lost even when Odafa played. And they have performed well without him also. Take the Salgaocar match… Bagan were so unlucky not to log full points,” Colaco explained.
Karim said he would be banking on team spirit on Saturday. “We worked hard over the last seven days. We have the right mix of experience and youth. We will have seven under-23 players in the 18-man squad. At least four of them will start. So, seniors are also helping in making sure the youngsters do not feel nervous.”
In the Federation Cup semi-final, a nervous Mohun Bagan conceded two goals within first 20 minutes. “It will be very important to keep our calm,” Bagan captain Shilton Paul said. Both Colaco and Karim said that they are under no pressure whatsoever.
“Whatever the outcome on Saturday, it will not affect me. There is always the next match,” Colaco said. “I relish challenges. I like Derby build-up… the mood, the atmosphere… And it drives me on,” was what Karim had to say.
For Mehtab Hussain, East Bengal’s poor finishing is a cause for concern. “We are creating chances, but not converting them. But I am confident we will bounce back. We got a raw deal against Dempo SC. Hopefully, it will not be the same on Saturday.”