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Acosta’s debut for East Bengal, Mohun Bagan’s record leads to interest peaking in season’s first derby

The two coups pulled off by East Bengal, who have won the league a record eight consecutive times going into this edition, makes Mohun Bagan seem like they have been caught on the counter.

football Updated: Sep 01, 2018 21:56 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
East bengal,Mohun Bagan,Indian Super League
Costa Rica's Johnny Acosta (white) will be making his debut for East Bengal.(AP)

Not quite mainstream but not obscure enough to be ignored either. That is how a Mohun Bagan-East Bengal match is these days. In the time of the Indian Super League, which seems the real gig with World Cup players hotfooting to it, and 27 days before the fifth edition of the franchise football competition begins, they meet in the Kolkata league here on Sunday.

But because over 60,000 are expected at the Salt Lake stadium with perhaps an equal number complaining that they couldn’t get tickets, priced between Rs 100-800, it is not a game that can be trifled with even if it is in a local league. This 97-year story of traditional rivalry, which finds a place in the annals of world football, endures because layers keep getting added to it. The latest is East Bengal’s acquisition of Johnny Acosta, a Costa Rican defender who was up against Neymar in the last World Cup, and getting a corporate backer whose financial might should make its protracted funds crunch seem like a bad dream.

The two coups pulled off by East Bengal, who have won the league a record eight consecutive times going into this edition, makes Mohun Bagan seem like they have been caught on the counter. Their officials embroiled in a bitter power struggle, Mohun Bagan haven’t managed to find someone willing to bankroll the team. And forget acquiring someone who played in the last World Cup, the club couldn’t even get Yuta Kinowaki, the Japanese midfielder who had decided the first of two I-League ties last term, in time for the season’s first derby.

But Mohun Bagan haven’t lost a Kolkata derby since April 2, 2016 after which the teams have met six times. Club coach Shankarlal Chakraborty though said he isn’t interested in such trivia because each match is like starting all over again. And at East Bengal, technical director Subhas Bhowmick said he wished Acosta didn’t have to debut in such trying conditions after a break that began when Costa Rica’s campaign ended in the World Cup.

Whatever be the circumstance going into the match, Bhowmick has played and coached in enough derbies to know that in such games, it is all-square at kick-off. And though he wasn’t there when the teams last met last January, Bhowmick would know that East Bengal went into the game as favourites and were outplayed 2-0; the I-League game turning on its head after Mahmoud Al Amna pulled up injured minutes after kick-off.

Both are on 19 points from seven games in this 12-team competition but Mohun Bagan lead the standings by virtue of having scored 16 goals to East Bengal’s 14.

First Published: Sep 01, 2018 21:11 IST