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The East Bengal player felt that the fans were robbed of what could have been a brilliant second half of the Kolkata derby, and defended the actions of his team-mates....

After the fiasco on the ground left the Kolkata derby incomplete last weekend, Goal.com spoke to Ishfaq Ahmed of East Bengal, where the former Salgaocar FC player spoke on a number of issues surruonding the high profile clash.

Ishfaq rued the fact that the derby ended in a woeful fashion and that a beautiful game of football suffered in the end.

“It always feels great to perform before 1 lakh people. But this time the unfortunate incidents took away the fun. We were dominating in the first half and were also a goal and a man up. We were getting many corners and free-kicks. We capitalized on one of them to snatch the lead. We wanted to resort to more attacking football in the second half. Mohun Bagan would have also wanted to attack as they were trailing. So, only a good football match got messed up.”

The former Mohun Bagan player spoke of the distress the players felt, when they realized how serious Syed Rahim Nabi’s injury was and stressed that fans should be more responsible.

“When I first saw Nabi bleeding, I thought it was one of the regular small cut wounds you suffer when you are hit by a stone. But, I soon realized how wrong I was. Even when we visited him in the hospital, I was panicking. We, footballers, are all humans first. We have also got families and life. We try to play nice football every day, but that is not the way it goes like.”

“Supporters should behave responsibly in order to avoid this kind of accidents. Similar things also happened in the Manchester derby. So, these things are common nowadays all over the world. The difference is things are done there by a handful few and they can be easily detained. Here the security forces should be trained to handle the mass,” he opined.

The show should have gone on...

Ishfaq though, felt that Mohun Bagan were wrong to not continue playing in the second half, once the crowd was under control. He stated, “It was absolutely not the right decision (by Mohun Bagan). I guess the situation was already under control when the added minutes of the first half were being played. The game should have been continued.”

The player, though he was disappointed by the Mariners’ second half no-show, was satisfied with his side’s performance till then.

“We were playing good football. We had specific plans for the set-piece movements but they were not working at that time because the Bagan defense hardly gave any space for things to materialize. I know I am not a good header of the ball. So when we got the free-kick just outside the box, I kept myself busy in pushing (Rakesh) Masih and Denson (Devadas) and told Harmanjot Khabra to capture the open space. Khabra is the best flicker of the ball in our team. He gave us the lead with a superb finish from a perfect free-kick taken by Mehtab Hussain. “

Ishfaq also defended the referee’s display, after the officials were heavily criticized for their handling of the derby. He opined, “I would say he was right with most of his decisions. Many people are saying that Odafa shouldn’t have been sent off. But, I don’t think so. The way he was waving hands before the referee, the referee could have got hurt. It was right to blame him for misconduct.”

He also felt that there was nothing inappropriate in the way his team-mates celebrated the Nigerian’s sending off.

“See this is common in international football. I can remember (Cristiano) Ronaldo once clapping in similar circumstances. Odafa is their best player and once he is sent off, our defense could have breathed a sigh of relief. Mehtab and Saumik (Dey) were just appreciating the referee’s decision and it was not meant to irk anybody.

Ishfaq also felt that it was time to look ahead and wanted to continue applying pressure on Dempo SC at the top of the table. He revealed, “We are focused (on our next game). We are to face Prayag United in the next match and that’s going to be a tough fixture. Basically we are eager to know the verdict of the AIFF (All India Football Federation). If we get those three points (against Mohun Bagan), we will remain firmly in the title-hunt. We wish to end the first leg of the I-League on a high note.”

The midfielder hopes Salgaocar get out of their lean patch soon....

Salgaocar FC have had a turbulent season so far, and the mighty Goans have witnessed a steep decline this season, as they currently occupy one of the relegation spots. As a former player, Ishfaq has a soft spot for the club, and hopes they get over this lean patch soon.

“They are a great side but the unit has not settled yet. The departure of Karim Bencherifa is also taking its toll. Booth is new to the side and it will take time for him to manage the situation. The foreigners have also not performed as per expectation. I have heard that they are going for fresh foreign recruits. I hope that works for them. I have played for them before and wish them all the luck.”

Ishfaq has been out of the national reckoning for a while, but he hasn’t yet given up hopes of being called to play for India. He does however plan to continue focusing on East Bengal for now.

“I am now focusing on my performance for the club only. I had last played for the country way back in 2005. I know it will be hard for me to bounce back into the team. So, for me it’s now about taking one step at a time and I hope continuously good performances will help me wear the national colours again,” he concluded.

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