East Bengal will look to ensure no hiccups will ruin the offset of their I-League campaign this year around, yet Lajong’s intense competitive spirit will make matters difficult...
East Bengal’s I-League honour statistics seemed a little skewed against them. Having not won the league since the 2003-04 season, East Bengal under Marcos Falopa will be expected to put in a serious challenge and possibly triumph over the rest of the pack in what is seen as a far-reaching season for them.
Under Falopa, the East Bengal side have reached the semi-finals of the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) Cup, a feat not performed by any I-League club in history bar Dempo SC. As Alvito D’Cunha, a player coach for the Kolkata outfit explained to The Telegraph, “When you perform well in an international competition, it does boost your confidence.
“That we have made all the right noises in an international tournament, especially at the start of the season, has tremendously helped us. The guys are in high spirits and we are in good shape. We will give our best.”
Now, Bengal will have their heads turned to domestic domination as they look to set records straight. “We are not thinking much about the past. We have come close to winning the I-League for the last three years, but have failed to clear the final hurdle,” elucidated a thoughtful Alvito.
He added, “It will be a fresh start for us. We have a new team and a new coach. The boys are in good shape and are playing well. We are motivated to do well. There are a few guys in our team who are yet to taste the success of winning an I-League. And that itself should motivate the players.”
The team are indeed wary of the prevailing conditions at Shillong and it is said that the club flew personnel out to Meghalaya so as to acclimatize quickly and prevent natural forces from deciding the fate of their tie. East Bengal are also without Ryuji Seuoka, the influential Japanese midfielder.
An important spectre of physical assertion is fatigue and thus East Bengal have decided to play it safe by resting five players who participated in the AFC semi0final in Kuwait, with the likes of Mehtab Hossain, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Soumik Dey, Arnab Mondal and Naoba Singh excluded from the travelling squad.
“Our focus is on the match. Since the ground is at such a high altitude, the wind is very wayward. So we need to adjust to the conditions. We need to seize the opportunities and play to our strengths,” explained D’Cunha.
In all the hoopla about the Red and Gold wanting to do justice to themselves and their record by winning their inaugural match of the campaign, one mustn’t forget the impact of Shillong Lajong so far on the League table.
Having just lost against Sporting Clube De Goa, Lajong and Thangboi Singto will look to bounce back in style against the favourites. The coach stressed the importance of keeping their head up high and that he was proud of his boys’ efforts. He will expect more of the same against supremely regarded opposition.
What is particularly encouraging is the form of midfielder Boithang Haokip. That coupled with Cornell Glen’s striking prowess, which he hopes to re-initiate, should provide a stern test for the Kolkata outfit.
The Shillong side are not suffering any withdrawal of players due to injury and have a fully fit squad to choose from.
A real fire-cracker awaits us on Wednesday the 9th of October at the Nehru Stadium in Shillong. East Bengal will look to get off on the right foot to mount a sustained challenge for their I-League title aspirations whereas Shillong will look to be the proverbial thorn in the Bengal side, as they’ve been on a few times before.
A feisty affair could ensue, although a cagey tension is what will dominate initial proceedings. This one will be a sure treat for the fans.
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