On the threshold of redeeming pride, Bengal are a drained lot. Injuries and the wear and tear of four games in eight days have taken a big toll on Shabbir Ali's boys. But only one game away from regaining what Bengal once rightfully considered theirs, they will want to throw everything at Punjab in Sunday's Santosh Trophy final.
"This is my fourth Santosh Trophy and my third final," said skipper Snehasish Chakraborty. "It's time I get the taste of winning it. As captain I will try my best," said the Mohun Bagan midfielder, adding that beating Goa in Friday's thriller was one of the best moments of his life.
That experience will boost hopes of winning their 30th trophy after 11 years but Bengal need to get past a spirited and disciplined Punjab, who barring their 0-3 defeat to Goa, have mowed down opponents at will. They have a potent attack which is backed by coach Jagir Singh's experience of having won the trophy twice — 2006 and 2008.
"It's about who is better at their game on the day itself. There is no point comparing two teams," said Jagir. "Bengal would be raring to win it after beating Goa but we are no pushovers." The eight-time winners will be missing influential midfielder Gurpreet Singh due to a double booking but the rest of the squad is available.
The Punjab strikers have hit the right notes all along, having scored 25 goals in eight matches here and Jagir will be again hoping Balwant Singh and Parveen Kumar exploit what he feels is 'a weak Bengal defence.'
"The defence definitely looks suspect and there is no reason why we won't be able to get past them if we play the way we have been doing," said Jagir. Ali, however, refused to admit the backline has been inconsistent. "There are bound to be some mistakes but what do you expect against a champion side like Goa," he retorted.
Having Abhra Mondal as the last man will give Bengal some confidence. Ali indicated that he wouldn't want to tinker with the goalkeeper's position after his heroics on Friday.
Though Denson Devdas and Jayanta Sen have held the midfield, Ali's real worries lie upfront. Striker Nilendra Dewan will not play the final after a knee injury on Friday. Tarif Ahmed has also been almost ruled out after he complained of a slight muscle problem.
With third striker Shankar Oraon ruled out with a muscle tear, TFA recruit Robin Singh remains Bengal's best hope. The 20-year-old might be fielded as single striker but chances are Souvik Chakraborty might be asked to partner him.