Friday’s Super Cup summit showdown against Bengaluru FC will be one of the most important football matches played by East Bengal in the past six years or so.
Putting aside their countless titles in the Calcutta Football League (CFL), Friday will represent a chance for the Red and Gold brigade to win their first major Indian football trophy since their Federation Cup triumph in 2012.
Standing in front of them and the trophy is their former I-League counterparts Bengaluru who have come into the tournament on the back of an impressive debut season in the Indian Super League (ISL).
Albert Roca’s men finished as the runaway leaders at the end of the league stage before being turned over in clinical fashion by Chennaiyin FC in the finals. Their form in the inaugural Super Cup has been equally splendid and they showed their class in the semi-final, dismantling East Bengal’s arch-rivals Mohun Bagan with 10 men.
In Sunil Chhetri and Miku, who have together combined to score 37 goals in both the ISL and Super Cup, Roca has no shortage of talismans to turn to even in the darkest of hours. The two have delivered the goods more often than not whenever the side has cried out for it.
As such, Khalid Jamil will need a talisman of his own at the Kalinga stadium because there is no sterner test his side has faced all year. Fortunately for him, he has one in Mahmoud Al Amna. The Syrian midfielder might not be racking up the crazy goalscoring numbers Chhetri and Miku have put up, but his contributions have been as important to the Kolkata club as theirs have been to Bengaluru.
While Dudu Omagbemi and Katsumi Yusa have banged in the goals, it is Amna who is the glue that holds East Bengal’s attack together. Everything good that East Bengal have done in the final third has flowed through the Syrian.
Oozing total class on the ball, the 35-year-old is the complete package. Possessing excellent technique and vision, the Syrian’s driving runs through the middle are capable of opening up any defence on his day. His neat one-twos and quick interchanges with the likes of Yusa have been productive for Jamil’s men.
Capable of playing the defence-splitting pass, Amna has a sharp eye for goal too and has popped up with some important ones over the course of the season. Equally adept with both his feet, the Syrian is as difficult a customer to shake off the ball as any.
That he is the heartbeat of East Bengal’s attacking play was evident in the semi-final win over FC Goa where despite being highly profligate in the final third, the side carved upon the ISL outfit’s defence at will throughout the ninety minutes.
Amna himself was guilty of squandering a couple of sitters but that doesn’t take away from his fluid performance which was so pleasing on the eye. He has fitted in seamlessly into the East Bengal attack after a wonderful season at Aizawl FC where he helped the Mizoram club script a fairytale triumph in the I-League.
The midfielder has been superb for East Bengal so far in the cup competition. It was his brilliant pass to Ansumana Kromah in injury time that ultimately led to the penalty which sealed the Kolkata club’s progression over his former side Aizawl in the quarter-finals.
He played an even greater part in the win over Mumbai City FC where he popped up with a 73rd-minute winner.
Against a powerful Bengaluru FC, Jamil will require Amna to be at the top of his game if he is to break the Kolkata side’s title draught. His shoulder, without a doubt, will be the one on which East Bengal’s chances will rest in the final.
While not short of industry, the Syrian’s quality is undeniable and he is the kind of player any coach in Indian football, be it the I-League or the ISL, would love to have on his side. His fandom could reach dizzying heights come Friday if the man from Aleppo can drive his side to Super Cup glory.