All set for first Kolkata derby in ISL
Wearing masks of Zinedine Zidane to rile Marco Materazzi was proof that games between Kerala Blasters and Chennaiyin FC had acquired an edge in three seasons of ISL. Bengaluru FC’s contests with Chenaiyin FC, where Materazzi was till 2016, too has fans worked up but it is only on Friday evening that ISL will get the real feel of a derby when SC East Bengal meet ATK Mohun Bagan.
This is a rivalry that began in 1925 and has since seen a stampede leading to fatalities (1980), at least one death by suicide in 1975 and one contest that was watched by 1.31 lakh at a Salt Lake stadium that could have been sold out many times over that July afternoon in 1997. That the contest has got the Big Bs of football in India --- Bhaichung Bhutia, Jose Barreto and Bala Devi --- talking shows that the change in the teams’ identity is nothing but new wine in old bottle. Everything about their previous lives will matter: East Bengal not winning a national league since 2004; beating Mohun Bagan 5-0 in the 1975 IFA Shield final; Mohun Bagan winning two I-League titles in the new millennium and losing 1-4 to a Bhutia hattrick in the last.
What is different is SC East Bengal coach Robbie Fowler saying that they go in as “massive, massive underdogs.” Bhutia too has said ATK Mohun Bagan, having retained most of their players, are favourites. After winning the opening game 1-0 against Kerala Blasters, Pritam Kotal, who has won 10 of the 13 derbies as Mohun Bagan defender, said: “We will definitely be a bit ahead mentally… We were the champions for the last year. So we have to play like champions.”
But with former Norwich City winger Anthony Pilkington, Birmingham City’s Jacques Maghoma, Brisbane Roar’s Scott Neville and Danny Fox ( formerly with Everton, Nottingham Forest and Wigan Athletic), who was named captain on Thursday, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Balwant Singh, SC East Bengal aren’t behind in individual ability. “Sometimes underdogs win,” said Fowler on Thursday.
“We probably know a little bit more about them than they about us. The disadvantage is that we have not played before and we go in a little but rusty (while) ATK know more about themselves,” said Liverpool legend Fowler who has played with ATK Mohun Bagan’s David Williams. Asked about not having seen their opponents, ATK Mohun Bagan coach Antonio Lopez Habas said it didn’t matter.
Habas said the injury to wing back Michael Soosairaj, “a good player and good person”, “was a “disaster”. Soosairaj was injured in the opener.
Both teams have seven players from Bengal, a number of Indians who have experience of this derby and in Sandesh Jhingan (ATKMB) and Lyngdoh who don’t.