East Bengal's derby loss on October 25 was Uga Okpara's gain. “That was my first derby and an opportunity to experience what Indian football is all about. It was a bit disappointing watching my team lose from the sidelines but it was the coach's decision not to start with me,” Okpara said on Friday.
“I knew that the fans wanted me to start in that match but obviously the coach (Subhas Bhowmick) had some other plans. But he has the freedom to choose which players to field,” the Nigerian said.
On Thursday though, Okpara was out there, leading the defence well to help his team inflict a 2-0 defeat on Mohun Bagan in the Hero Honda 31st Federation Cup semi-final.
“What a victory! I still can't believe we won. Though the two situations can't ever be compared because of the difference of environment and sheer pressure, it was a very big revenge for us,” Okpara said.
Even though East Bengal won, Okpara refuses to believe they played outstanding football. “Mohun Bagan were the better team. We were not fantastic but stuck to playing good, tactical football.”
The plan was to deny Mohun Bagan frontliners Jose Barreto and Edeh Chidi space in the 18-yard-box. “Chidi and Barreto are the best among the best foreigners in Indian football and have the capability to knock out any team from a tournament. But our determination was exceptional.”
But it was Barreto's penalty kick miss that surprised the 25-year-old the most. “I couldn't believe my eyes when he shot wide. I think that's the irony of football. You score off difficult chances but when faced with the easiest chances that could come your way, you miss them. The same thing happened yesterday,” said the Nigerian, who has played in two international friendlies against Zimbabwe and Kenya.
With only one match between them and the Federation Cup, Okpara believes that the team is ready to take on debutants Lajong FC.
“They are a very dangerous team but we have come up well. The understanding between the defenders has improved. Now we want to go back to Kolkata with the cup,” Okpara said.