In the past few years, if any two teams have been consistently successful in the Federation Cup and I-League, then it is East Bengal and Dempo SC respectively.
And the two sides go head-to-head this Sunday, with the Kolkatan side hoping to win their third title in 4 years, while the Armando Colaco’s side hope to emulate Salgaocar FC, who last season won the Federation Cup while holding the league title.
It will be an interesting battle between two sides that many thought could struggle, considering they both lost their premier strikers over the summer.
During their stints, Tolgay Ozbey and Ranti Martins were talismanic figures upfront for East Bengal and Dempo SC respectively, and therefore it was expected that the two clubs would flounder, especially Trevor Morgan’s side, who even left one foreigner slot in their squad vacant.
However as seen during the Federation Cup, the pundits could not have been more off the mark, as while the two sides have flourished, the clubs that the two forwards joined, went down without a trace.
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Dempo SC had an unsteady start against Pailan Arrows, drawing 1-1, but they have since then gone from strength to strength, beating Shillong Lajong 1-0, before finishing their league assignments by thumping Mumbai FC 4-0.
So far of their nine goals, Koko Sakibo has provided four, and it looks like the striker is finally emerging from the shadows of Ranti Martins, alongside whom he played last season.
The Nigerian has provided a good physical presence upfront, and has linked up well with his midfielders, though he does lack the technique his more illustrious Nigerian former team-mate possesses.
Starting on the left wing, Clifford Miranda has been the source of 3 goals, and added to that, the width he provides as well as his dead ball deliveries make him invaluable to the team. Armando Colaco will be hoping that he is able to shake off the niggle he picked up in the semi-final win against Salgaocar, which led to his substitution.
However if he fails to make the starting line-up, Romeo Fernandes’s cameo after joining the fray in the semi-finals, means that they have an able deputy on the bench.
Infact Dempo looked a well-oiled machine in their clash against Salgaocar, as they should, considering they are a far more settled side than most of the other I-League clubs, and even hit the cross-bar twice, apart from the two second half goals.
Colaco will hope that his team shall finally lay their hands on the Federation Cup given that they have just managed to win the trophy once in the 2004 season.
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East Bengal meanwhile have spent the summer concentrating on improving the squad depth, and it will be tested in the final, with their first choice centre-backs Uga Okpara and Gurwinder Singh, both suspended. Raju Gaikwad and Arnab Mondal are likely to be their replacements, and both are the amongst the brightest prospects in Indian football, however as witnessed against Kalighat where they conceded as many as three goals, they are yet to develop an understanding. Morgan was even forced to introduce Gurwinder and Okpara at half-time against Kalighat MS, a luxury he shall not have on Sunday.
While the club could definitely have done with the services of Tolgay Ozbey, but with the Australian now a Mariner, Manandeep Singh and Chidi Edeh have shared the goals between themselves during the Federation Cup.
However interestingly, three of Edeh’s four goals and one of Manandeep’s three strikes have come from the penalty spot, with the former Salgaocar striker in particular failing to take any of the several chances that have come his way from open play.
Such profligacy will though not go unpunished against a top side like Dempo, even though Churchill Brothers themselves will be disappointed at letting East Bengal off the leash in their semi-final.
Infact throughout the competition, East Bengal have never looked a steady and stable unit, and though they were the only Kolkatan side to make the last four, they almost crashed out, before rallying to beat relative minnows Kalighat MS in their final league match, which was a must win encounter for them, after they were held to a draw by Sporting Clube de Goa, before just about managing to beat ONGC.
But in a competition like this, often the team that improves gradually, can take away the honours at the end, and Trevor Morgan will be hoping that his successful love affair with the Federation Cup continues on Sunday, as after having being runner-ups in both, the Federation Cup and I-League last season, another stumble at the final step might lead to questions being put forth whether the team is equipped to win titles or do they tend to falter when it matters the most.
While one looks forward to a great encounter between the two sides, regardless of the results, both managers can say, that they have built a strong unit, which is not dependent on any particular player to attain glory.
All set for Sunday then as the two teams go head-to-head at the Kachenjunga Stadium!
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