Before the contest, camaraderie. "Ekene," "Ekene," hollered East Bengal players as they trooped in and saw Salgaocar winding up their training session at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan on Tuesday morning. Till recently, Ekene Ikenwa was East Bengal's striker. On Wednesday, the big Nigerian is likely to be the lone targetman for Salgaocar in this fifth round clash of I-League 4.
Sweets being distributed because East Bengal midfielder Mehtab Hossain, enjoying a rich vein of form this season, became the father of a baby boy on Monday morning enhanced the general air of bonhomie.
All that will change once the match begins. It's early days in a marathon league but given that both have won all four matches, this could be a clash between two of the most settled sides. Morgan added Dempo to the mix, saying "come February, they will be among contenders."
And what about East Bengal? "We too would want to be among the top three then and see how it goes once the India players (now preparing for next month's Asian Cup finals in Doha) return," Morgan said after East Bengal wrapped up a light session.
Without undermining his back four, Bencherifa said this would be the clash between the team with the best attack and one with the best defence. East Bengal have kept four clean sheets but Morgan accepted "it will be tested tomorrow."
Salgaocar have scored 13 goals nearly double that of East Bengal, who are the next highest at seven. Pointing out that their Japanese boy (Seuoka) was "lively", Morgan though refused to look beyond his team as the one with the best attack.