After playing five matches in the last nine days, exhaustion seems to have got the better of Mohun Bagan. Coach Karim Bencherifa agrees before insisting that 'the legs are tiring but don't forget the mind, it can always do the trick'.
Theirs is no doubting that Mohun Bagan have a lot of players with a lot of character in their ranks, but when they take the field against Mahindra United in their most important I-League match of the season on Thursday, the maroon-and-green brigade would want a few things to go their way.
Tied with Churchill Brothers on 43 points but behind on goal difference — the difference is a whopping 15 goals — the Kolkata giants' topmost priority will be to beat Mahindra, and then hope Mohameddan Sporting either beat or hold Chuchill Brothers at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Margao. If that happens, Bagan will win the league and can set out for their victory run at the uneven Ambedkar turf. On form, and also on paper, Bagan enjoy a slight edge going into Thursday's match, notwithstanding the absence of four key players — N.S. Manju, Marcos Perreira, Lalkamal Bhowmick and Rakesh Masih. But everybody knows for Bencherifa and his boys, it is not just about winning Thursday's match.
Bencherifa, however, seemed unperturbed. “We are not thinking about the Churchill match at all. We are just focussing on our match against Mahindra. “We hope we beat them today and then see what happens to the other match,” Bencherifa said.
Bhaichung Bhutia felt that 'Churchill's tendency to crumble under pressure may work in his team's favour'.
The absence of the regulars will hit Bagan hard in the middle but even Mahindra will be without their most influential player Steven Dias who is out with a double booking.
“We will miss them but we have the options,” Bencherifa said when asked how their absence will affect the team. The coach is also yet to decide on who will replace them in the starting line-up.
While the chances of winning the league may hinge on the result of the Churchill versus Mohameddan Sporting match, Bagan should also be wary about the dangerous Chidi Edeh — the Mahindra striker has the ability to change the course of the match single handedly. Apart from Chidi, Dereck Pereira can also fall back on India regulars NP Pradeep and K Ajayan.
Players upbeat, Churchill coach wary
By Gordon D'Costa
Margao: CHURCHILL BROTHERS Serbian coach Zoran Djordjevic is holding his cards close to his chest. He is not prepared to reveal the playing XI for their crucial match against relegation-threatened Mohammedan Sporting, at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Fatorda on Thursday.
The Goans, with 43 points, the same as Mohun Bagan, who meet Mahindra United in New Delhi at the same time, are fighting for the championship and Djordjevic said he believes a conspiracy is being hatched.
“I will not tell anyone which players will take the field tomorrow. I want to keep it a secret as there are some people who are trying to destroy the team,” he said after a light training session at the Varca ground on Wednesday evening. “Some people from another team have been trying to negotiate a deal with some of my players,” he said.
The mood in the Churchill Brothers' camp though was significantly more upbeat and the players looked relaxed at training.