The 30th Federation Cup has been nicely set up for Sunday’s finale with form teams making the semifinals on Thursday. Sport has no guarantees but it would have been a travesty had Goa and Kolkata derbies not comprised penultimate round duels at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan.
Up first is the match between reigning I-League champions Dempo and Churchill Brothers, currently third in the League and in their maiden semifinal of this tournament. This will be followed by the Mohun Bagan-East Bengal duel, which to a lot of people is still what Indian club football is all about.
Churchill Brothers coach Zoran Djordjevic and Dempo’s Armando Colaco were all sweetness and light on Wednesday morning.
“I hope we have a carnival tomorrow,” Djordjevic said after touching fists with Colaco. Minutes earlier, the Dempo coach wasn’t half as convivial. Asked why Dempo, for all their recent conquest, have floundered in the Federation Cup, Colaco told HT: “The very thought of this tournament reminds us of Cristiano’s (Junior) death. After all that happened, it becomes difficult to keep our poise.”
Junior had died after a heart attack on December 5, 2004 during the Federation Cup final against Mohun Bagan which Dempo won 2-0.
Convinced that sending the players home after the gruelling 2-1 win against Air India on Tuesday evening is the best antidote for tired minds and bodies, Mohun Bagan didn’t train on Wednesday. “The players are tired and no one’s unavailable,” coach Karim Bencherifa said.
Determined to continue the winning momentum and in defence of their crown, East Bengal limbered up at home. They know the Federation Cup could alleviate the hurt of six losses and two draws in the last eight games against Mohun Bagan here and a mid-table position in the I-League following a hattrick of defeats. And though East Bengal looked more sprightly than they have been recently, coach Stanley Rozario was understandably evasive on accepting that they are favourites.
Renedy Singh is likely to sit out again, meaning Syed Rahim Nabi could keep his position on the left side of the midfield. Rozario said Suley Musah’s available but would take a call on Thursday on whether or not to disrupt the central defensive pairing of Nirmal Chhetri and Mehrajuddin Wadoo. Yusif Yakubu has a slight stiffness but likely to play.