East Bengal look to end Federation Cup drought

By Abhishek Roy, IANS

Ludhiana : Kolkata football giants East Bengal would be looking to end their 11-year Federation Cup title drought when they take on Mumbai outfit Mahindra United in the final of the 29th edition of the tournament here Saturday.

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Few had expected these two teams at the start of the tournament a fortnight ago to figure in the title clash. But both sides have played exceptionally well and eliminated favourites like defending champions Mohun Bagan and national league winners Dempo Sports Club of Goa along the way.

Mahindra, Federation Cup champions in 2003 and 2005, and East Bengal, who last won the title in 1996, have lost many players during the summer transfers but have looked determined on the field.

For East Bengal coach Subrata Bhattacharya, a title here will mark a new beginning to his career as a coach after he was treated shabbily by Mohun Bagan a few summers ago.

Bhattacharya, who grew up as a player in Mohun Bagan before taking over as coach, raised a few eyebrows when he decided to move to arch rivals East Bengal this season. Given the fierce rivalry between the two Kolkata clubs, his move sent shock waves not only on the maidan but in Indian football as well.

Having helped Mohun Bagan win the Federation Cup on seven occasions as a player, Bhattacharya failed in his first test last month when East Bengal lost 3-4 to his former team in the Kolkata Premier division league.

In the northern city of Ludhiana, the former India defender’s planning looked rock solid against the Mohun Bagan’s famed attacking duo of Bhaichung Bhutia and Brazilian Jose Ramirez Barreto. East Bengal won the semi-final 3-2.

Revenge wouldn’t have been any sweeter for Bhattacharya but he would now like to finish the campaign with the title.

“We need to keep the momentum. We have played some tough matches before the final and have come a long way and don’t want to go back empty handed,” said Bhattacharya, after his team’s practice session here Friday.

But the 55-year-old Bhattacharya also cautioned that he would like to finish the match the regulation 90 minutes. He feels that if the match goes into a penalty shoot-out, the Mumbai outfit holds an edge.

Mahindra defeated Goan clubs Sporting Clube de Goa in the quarterfinals and Dempo in the semis thanks to a heroic performance by second choice goalkeeper Subhasish Roy Chowdhury in the shootout.

The 22-year-old goalkeeper proved to be coach Derek Pereira’s trump card in both tie-breakers, hence Bhattacharya’s wish that his boys finish the game in regulation time.

The return of Brazilian striker Edmilson Marques will bolster East Bengal’s chances in Saturday’s final. Marques missed the last match due to injury and along with his strike partner Ashim Biswas forms the most potent attack for the 1996 champions.

Except for the return of Marques, East Bengal is likely to field the same team that ousted Mohun Bagan.

For Mahindra, the return of midfielder Steven Dias, after serving a one-match suspension, will be a boon but they would have to without the services of N.P. Pradeep, who must sit out the final after picking up two yellow cards in the earlier games.

A win here obviously boost Mahindra’s confidence in the quarterfinals of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup against Lebanon’s Al Najmeh in Delhi Monday. But coach Pereira is not interested in looking beyond Saturday just yet.

“Both the matches are on our minds. But right now we have looking at what is next,” said Pereira.