Mehtab Hussain, the midfield lynchpin of East Bengal denied tagging his team as clear favourites for the upcoming Kolkata Derby in the I-League to be held on 9th December. A key performer for his side, Mehtab has played many derbies in his illustrious career. He was a part of the Mohun Bagan squad before joining his current team in 2007. He is a member of an elite league of players who have excelled in both the 'Red and Gold' and 'Green and Maroon' jerseys. .
When asked whether East Bengal will start the match in an advantageous position given that they are the only unbeaten side in the league, Mehtab remarked, "Nothing can be predicted in a derby. No team starts favourite. I have seen matches where the underdogs have won comprehensively. Everybody will give their 200%. It will be in the hand of God to decide the winner," said Mehtab.
Several supporters attended the East Bengal practice and pleaded for a win on Sunday to which Mehtab assured them that the team will try their level best to do the same. Later, he also added that winning this match is very crucial to keep the team firmly on track in the title-race.
Mehtab was all praises when questioned about the Mohun Bagan side. He opined, "I know they have been struggling for a few matches now. But Karim (Bencherifa) will definitely look after the defensive problems. Moreover players like Syed Nabi, Jewel Raja, and Denson Devadas are all class footballers. May be the team has lost their touch recently. But they have quality players and it will only take one good match to find their form. Don’t be surprised if you see a whole new Bagan side altogether this Sunday."
|Mehtab (far right) says the derby will equally contested|
Odafa Okolie has been the lone performer for Mohun Bagan in the last 3 matches. His prolific goal-scoring record is the only positive side for the 'Green and Maroon' brigade this season. Mehtab too, was quick to praise Odafa’s performance and declared him to be the ‘Best forward playing in India.’
When enquired about their plan to stop Odafa, he told, "Yes, we will have to find a way. Odafa is in fine form and is finding the net in almost every match. We will definitely have a separate strategy for him. Probably, we will not resort to man-marking him. Zonal marking will be a better choice, I guess. But don’t showcase the match as an East Bengal versus Odafa fight. There will be 22 players on the field and anyone can make difference. A derby is always 50-50."
The diminutive midfielder was also pleased with the dressing room atmosphere in his own team. "We are playing well. The core of the team has remained unchanged for the last three years and we have now started getting the positive results. Our level of co-ordination is at its best. Our new recruits are doing exceptionally well. Among the new Indian players, I must name Arnab Mondal separately. He has been a rock at the back. I am glad to see a Bengali defender performing so well. He is getting the deserved attention from all corners."
Only the injury of Sanju Pradhan, the regular captain of the side was a matter of concern for Mehtab. He stated, "It is a big loss for the team. Sanju is a fantastic player. He is an integral part of our game plan. He adds more energy when the opponent starts getting tired. We will certainly miss his service. But we have Lalrindika and Cavin Lobo as his replacement. I hope that they will use this opportunity well."
The Indian international also insisted that the record of going unbeaten for a consecutive 32 matches, in the I-League and the Kolkata League, has not instilled a feeling of over-confidence in them. He told that there is no scope in this time of the season to become content with what they have achieved.
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