KOLKATA: East Bengal will face their biggest challenge on Sunday when they take on a determined Mohun Bagan in the Calcutta Football League title decider at Kanchenjunga Stadium in Siliguri.
Seven-time successive champions East Bengal would look to defend their crown while Mohun Bagan would try to end their title drought and give their fans something to cheer about.
Heading into season’s first Kolkata Derby, both teams are tied on 22 points. However, thanks to a better goal difference East Bengal lead the standings and just need a draw to clinch their 39th CFL title. Whereas only a win would see Mohun Bagan winning their first since 2009.
East Bengal seems to be undeterred with what they have achieved so far. “Past performance does not matter us, this is a new game. Whatever we done before will count for little if we can’t win the title.” East Bengal coach Khalid Jamil said.
Jamil has cautioned the players against complacency and insists the Red and Golds are eager to put their best foot forward in the derby match.
“I don’t know how to play for a draw, and let me tell you that we are looking for full three points. If we win the match that would suggest we deserve to win the Calcutta Football League,” he added.
East Bengal’s Trinidadian ace Willis Plaza provided a much needed boost to their title hopes as he scored a hat-trick in East Bengal’s 5-0 trouncing of Tollygunge Agragami last week.
However, the onus will be on the East Bengal deep defense where Carlyle Mitchell and Gurwinder Singh have enjoyed a good season, however, the duo will have to be on their toes to block the Mohun Bagan advances.
Mohun Bagan, on the other hand, have been largely depended on their younger players like Chesterpaul Lyngdoh, Nikhil Kadam, Azaharuddin Mallick and Raynier Fernandes whose individual and collective performances have been the highlight of the season with Ansumana Kromah and Bayi Kamo Stephane providing the inspiration.
“It is all about mental pressure. If we are under pressure then I think East Bengal are under more pressure compared to us because they are the favorites,” said Mohun Bagan coach Sankarlal Chakraborty.
“I just told the players if you take it as ‘derby match’, the pressure will be going very hard, but if you think it’s just another match the pressure will ease off. We have toiled hard to reach at this position, and should not look back henceforth,” he added.
Sankarlal has been a proponent of “fearless football” and his team needs to do just that against East Bengal, whom they beat 2-0 when the two last met in Federation Cup four months ago.
Nonetheless, there is not really a single element that links either, as the match on Sunday between the same two sides will be played out between a completely different set of players. Even the coaches are different.
Thus, with the trophy at stake, composure and character, as much as tactics, will influence the outcome. Though the odds slightly favour East Bengal since Mohun Bagan will have to do all the running if they are to win the trophy.
Calcutta Football League witnessed a similar situation four years ago when East Bengal and Mohun Bagan’s title dream were tied to single string and it went down to the last match of the season. Therefore, history will repeat itself on Sunday when these two Indian football giants take on each other.