History beckons Lajong FC but after two fruitless years, East Bengal are in no mood to let go of a chance to win the Federation Cup. Sunday’s summit clash will be between two teams who didn’t start as favourites.
The Cup will definitely change hands but whether it will stay in Kolkata — across the road on the Maidan — or travel to the virgin Northeast is the question.
The I-League debutants are currently experiencing a blaze of glory while East Bengal look to have shrugged off the slumber and re-emerge as a force. One factor has been common to their show — character.
Performance-wise, Lajong FC hold the edge. Thumping powerhouses like Dempo and Churchill Brothers is no mean feat but, after having lost two important foreigners to double bookings, they might run out of steam when it matters most.
But then, team spirit has also been one of Lajong FC’s strengths and final could be more motivating, as they must do it without foreign help.
East Bengal were scratchy in the group league but the convincing derby win has provided the team the impetus to seek a win. They have been without a title for over two years, their last triumph coming in the 2007.
Stanley Rozario, however, stands in their way. The Lajong FC coach claimed that knowing East Bengal ‘inside out’ was a big advantage. “I know their team and their tactics. Their defence hasn’t conceded a goal which is a plus point,” Rozario said. “Strikers like Yakubu, Barreto and Odafa can turn any match. So we have to be careful about our defence,” he said.
To achieve that, Rozario would have liked to rely on Daniel Bidemi. But the Nigerian defender is out, allowing Zoumingliana Ralte to make a comeback. Roland Pyngrope will come in place of James Gbilee in central midfield. But the forward duo of Anil Gurung and Seikhohau Tuboi are the people to look out for. If they score early, Lajong FC may be in with a chance.
East Bengal will again bank on the defensive trio of Mehrajuddin Wadoo, Uga Okpara and Nirmal Chhetri. Harmanjot Khabra could return as right-back after sitting out the semi-final due to suspension and that could mean Syed Rahim Nabi plays on the right side of the midfield.
Alvito d’Cunha is still doubtful. East Bengal coach Philippe de Ridder is hopeful of making Bhaichung Bhutia ‘play for as long as possible’ but chances of the India skipper making the first XI too are slim.