BY ANSELM NORONHA Follow @apnoronha on twitter
Mohun Bagan AC drew 1-1 with Mohammedan Sporting in a Calcutta Football League (CFL) game, on Monday, as they prepare themselves for the upcoming Federation Cup in which the Maroon and Green are placed in Group C alongside Salgaocar FC, Mumbai FC and Shillong Lajong FC.
Bagan's coach, Karim Bencherifa, mentioned that "the progress is going on [towards the Federation Cup]" while they are to play a Calcutta league derby against East Bengal on 11 January following which they shall travel to Kerala.
On the eve of Bagan's third win in 12 matches, after the Mariners had beaten United Sports Club 4-0 in a round 13 I-League match, Bencherifa had admitted that his squad is more suited to performing well in a Cup tournament as they will be in optimum fitness by the time the Federation Cup kicks-off.
"This team is more of a cup team. Federation Cup is on 14th January. The combination between Christopher [Chizoba] and Odafa [Okolie] will be good by then. Odafa too will get his fitness back. We have a very good and realistic chance for Federation Cup. We are looking for a trophy. If we can peak at that time then we should focus on both the Federation Cup and the IFA Shield. We will try for I-League but it’s a tough tournament," he was quotted.
The 45-year-old, however, has made a U-turn on his earlier statement. "I take that back. I change my word. My team is suitable to play in any match in any competition," he said.
Mohun Bagan have also recently roped in a couple of youngsters in Shaiju Mon and Prayashu Halder from Pailan Arrows and Southern Samity respectively.
"We have signed a lot of youngsters," Bencherifa expounded. "You see now, I'm telling you that a lot of clubs claim that they are playing a lot of youngsters. Nobody is playing more than us.
"I'm not saying that by choice. I'm obliged because that's what I have. Every I-League match or every Calcutta league match - the players that are involved in those games - there are at least five-to-six under-23 [players]. Even against Pune FC, when we beat them 3-1, six [under-23] players were involved - four started and one or two of the substitutes were also under-23.
"Mohammedan have senior players like [Syed Rahim] Nabi, Mehraj (Mehrajuddin Wadoo), Ishfaq [Ahmed]...Ishfaq was telling me 'half of the [Bagan] team, I never heard of them' because they are young. And I don't have the best youngsters of India. I have the best youngsters of Calcutta (Kolkata)."
How do you stay up with football when on the move? With http://m.goal.com –your best source for mobile coverage of the beautiful game.