Salgaocar and East Bengal, India’s most successful teams in the past 12 months, will line up for one more clash before regrouping ahead of I-League 5 beginning next month. At the Yuba Bharati Krirangan on Thursday evening, one of them will take home the 33rd Federation Cup.
“I’m only worried about the refereeing part. It’s going to be a good match otherwise,” said Salgaocar coach Karim Bencherifa after wrapping up training on Wednesday morning.
Recently declared frontrunner to be national coach, it has been quite a turnaround for Bencherifa.
Taking over a team that was fighting relegation in February 2010 after Mohun Bagan let him go, the Moroccan, first saved the chop and, in little over a year, transformed the Goa club into I-League champions.
That too with a squad that cost half the present Mohun Bagan roster. Now, Bencherifa is eyeing an I-League and Federation Cup double. It will be a first since 2005-06 when Derick Pereira did it with Mahindra United.
Asked about his future, Bencherifa said he wasn’t quite sure.
“My fate isn’t totally in my hands. I have a contract with Salgaocar and if the AIFF (the national federation) selects me, it might head for a tripartite discussion before anything is finalised,” he said.
His adversary Trevor James Morgan, whose first success was last season’s Federation Cup, has been a hit among East Bengal footballers who credit him for instilling a never-say-die spirit at the club. But even the Englishman didn’t hesitate in acknowledging they were fighting the best team of the country
“Salgaocar are presently the best team. They have the best coach. There is no question about it,” said Morgan.
Morgan has his share of problems. With Mehtab Hossain still unsure and niggles keeping Alan Gow and Raju Gaikwad doubtful, East Bengal are not at their best. But Morgan has promised to be strong. “Mehtab is the best midfielder of India now but we have to move on,” he said.
If Hossain misses the final, Gow might again have to play as attacking midfielder. Tolgay Ozbey has had a quiet time so far but Morgan said ‘as long as Tolgay creates chances’ he is happy. Robin Singh’s return after serving a double booking might ease the nerves of his Australian partner.
Salgaocar will miss defensive midfielder Mehrajuddin Wadoo as a defensive screen after his second booking in Sunday’s semi-final against Shillong Lajong FC. Central defender Luciano Sabrosa too was seen nursing his knee with an ice pack on Wednesday.