Karim Bencherifa, coach of the Mohun Bagan team, blamed the match officials of “hogging the limelight”, as a red card to Echezona Anyichie saw them cripple down to ten-men and eventually lose the tie to Pune FC 2-0 on Thursday evening.
A seething Bencherifa chose to keep calm and elucidate the real factors that led to his side’s demise against the Red Lizards.
“(It is) very difficult to digest the loss within a few minutes. We were very positively looking to play football and looking to win. We faced a very strong team as I’ve said before, a team that has settled well. Goalkeeper (Amrinder Singh), Anas (Edathodika), Arata (Izumi), Nikhil (Kadam), Mumtaz (Akhtar) all these players have been here for four-or-five years and so they’re set. If you look at our end, we are still settling. We had seven new players in our team and 13 new additions to our squad (this summer). So if you see, I said before the game that Mohun Bagan is still a team under construction,” he explained.
He tried to reason out the facts on his squad’s preparation, explaining, “If you look at the first half, we didn’t play our passing game very well for a reason which was very logical. We couldn’t prepare for the game on a natural pitch as we’ve done all our training on an artificial pitch. The Bagan pitch wasn’t available and so we trained at the Salt Lake stadium which was an artificial pitch. We have been training and playing games on an artificial turf from the start of the season. If you look at the first half our boys gave away some really cheap passes.”
Bagan started stronger of the two sides after the break and should have taken the lead through striker Eric Muranda who missed arguably the easiest chance in the game.
“The second half was different I think we came out strongly and we were the better team as we fixed our deficiencies in the first ten minutes of the second half but still couldn’t get a goal. Eric was one-on-one with the keeper but unfortunately we couldn’t score. We started playing well, the way we wanted until the time where the referee wanted to take the limelight and decided to become the star of the game.”
Referee Umesh Bohra whistled for a foul on Echezone Anyichie by Raul Fabiani but when the latter offered a hand to the Bagan defender, the former retaliated with a kick and hence was eventually sent-off.
“Because if he (the referee) didn’t whistle for a foul, I would understand, nothing would happen. But when a player has a boot in the face and the referee whistles for a free-kick - you look at stats. Last time around Nani, in the Champions League game (against Real Madrid), got a red card without making significant contact. So here a guy who has a boot on his face lying down injured, and of course the opponent player, with concern, comes over to carry him, he reacted.
“It was normal reaction because of the pain. So the guy who is injured gets a red while the fouling player gets nothing. If you look at incidents with Katsumi (Yusa), he gets fouled three or four times today, brought down in similar position where players deserve cards. Pune FC didn’t even get one single card,” he pointed.
“So that was the turning point for me. We matched them well initially and kept competing. But when you play against a set team with five foreigners (including Arata) on the pitch and with ten men it was always going to be difficult.The key moment for me was the red card, which should have been reciprocated with a red card for their player as well. The key moments also included the way we played initially too,” he added.
On being asked if Odafa Okolie was the missing link in his team’s play and if they were too dependent on him, Bencherifa responded, “See, Odafa is a very important player. But let me make it clear that I’m very proud of the players. We were in the game for the next ten or fifteen minutes after the red card and created a few chances and held possession well. Though, after that the team became tired. The boys who were in the game, I’m proud of them as they fought till the end.”
He thanked Pune FC’s management and heaped praise on their professional set-up which has been praised time and again by various important personalities with the highlight of it being them fulfilling the club licensing criterion.
“It was a great atmosphere. It’s not for nothing that the AIFF gave the license to them. Pune FC are leaders when it comes to professionalism. I highlight this every time. I respect the club as whole as they organize their events and treat the fans beautifully along with the players. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the club for their hospitality especially the manager (Dr.Ashok Kumar) and we were well taken care of by their setup as well,” concluded the coach acknowledging the presence of a good number of Bagan fans in the stadium.
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