The I-League’s most high profile game is upon us. Neither of the two sides involved are in the top half of the table and their current form going into the clash is patchy at best.
East Bengal and Mohun Bagan are tied on 19 points from 13 and 17 matches respectively. The Red and Gold have won just one of their five home matches though some of the ‘away’ fixtures have also been played in Kolkata due to as many as three teams from Kolkata, excluding them being in the I-League.
In their last two league fixtures, East Bengal only managed a point and haven’t scored goal in over 180 minutes of football. Such has been their predicament despite having the best squad on paper.
Coach Armando Colaco has highlighted on how the players are pressurized in Kolkata, unlike other parts of the country to win each and every game of any competition the team participates in.
“Here every match is a derby. But for me, Mohun Bagan is the only derby considered. Winning it the first time was good and now I am looking forward again. The players are eager to play but I hope they recover from injuries and I have to deal with a suspension as well,” he told Goal.
Colaco has already encountered several problems in his short stint with the club where he has pointed of certain players being selfish and not passing the ball when the opportunity presents.
Uga Okpara is injured and will miss the tie. Gurwinder Singh is suspended while Chidi Edeh who was taken off in the second half against Dempo SC due to an injury, is expected to recover in time.
East Bengal cannot afford to slip up any further as it shall dampen their hopes of winning the I-League title and thus become the first in Kolkata to do so.
Meanwhile Mohun Bagan are no better than their counterparts. Their transfer policy has been well documented in the past and aftereffects are seen this season.
Their team is too reliant on Odafa Okolie and the skipper shall miss the derby. Goalscoring has been a major issue for The Green and Maroons as they have a mere 16 goals to show. Once again they are not involved in the battle to win the title and a mid-table finish beckons.
However the club has abstained from washing their dirty linen in public and have always backed each other. When Karim Bencherifa was under pressure back in December and was on the verge of being sacked, the players offered their support. While at a time when several players are underperforming, Bencherifa has never once pointed finger at a player in his media briefings.
“This is by far the biggest game in Indian football. No one can understand the feeling you go through unless you are involved in it. Personally I wish we had more games like the derby in the I-League -- fans, intensity, rivalry, emotions, coverage,” said Bagan coach Karim Bencherifa.
The last time when the two sides met in the I-League, it was Bagan who had upped hand in the game but eventually lost, thanks to a wonder strike by Lalrindika Ralte.
When their paths crossed in the Calcutta Premier League in January, it was Katsumi Yusa who scored the winner in an inconsequential tie as East Bengal had already won the title.
Neither side have played top quality football on a consistent basis this season. While the derby is certainly a great advertisement for Indian football given the excitement around it but the standard has to be raised.
While fans of either side would pin their hopes on their favourite side to clinch three points, the neutrals only ask for a good quality game.