Gokulam eye first, Bagan 17th title in Durand Cup final
Gokulam Kerala stunned East Bengal 3-2 on penalties in the semi-final after a 1-1 stalemate in the extra time.Updated: Aug 23, 2019 22:33 IST
Cast-offs from Kolkata with a point to prove, a striker from Trinidad and Tobago trying to revive his international career, a club seeking their first title outside the state and another eyeing their 17th after a 19-year gap.
One day before the final, the Durand Cup, revived after two seasons and moved out of New Delhi, whose winners will take home Rs 40 lakh, did not feel like a pre-season tournament for Mohun Bagan and Gokulam Kerala FC.
CK Ubaid, who shut out East Bengal in the shootout in Wednesday’s double-header semi-finals, is likely to man the Kerala team’s goal on Saturday and show what the giants in red-and-gold are missing. At the other end of the pitch will be teammate Henry Kisekka who played for Mohun Bagan last term scoring 11 goals in 27 games.
“It is a big opportunity for Kerala and the club. It is very important for us,” said Kisekka, 29. Founded in 2017, Gokulam Kerala won the state league in 2017-18 but haven’t come this far in any all-India tournament.
With the Ugandan in the front third will be Marcus Joseph who moved from 2018 Trinidad and Tobago Pro League champions W Connection --- he was also the league’s highest scorer with 18 goals --- to Kerala where he got seven goals in nine I-League games after joining in January. “I would like to be always on the (national) team as a starting player,” Joseph, 28, has said.
With nine goals in four games, including a late, equalising penalty that took the semi-final to the tie-breaker, Joseph may have taken an unusual route to try and break back into the ‘Soca Warriors’ fold but Gokulam Kerala certainly are not complaining.
“It (the trophy) would be a great gift to the people of Kerala,” said Joseph. The state has been ravaged by flood this month that left over 100 dead.
In the other corner are Mohun Bagan, who returned to the 129th edition of the competition after 2009. This would be their first Durand Cup since 2000 and their 17th overall which would make Mohun Bagan the competition’s most successful team. Like their opponents, Mohun Bagan are unbeaten in four games, needing 120 minutes in the semi-final to down Real Kashmir FC 3-1 on Wednesday.
“It is going to be special of course as it is a very old tournament,” said Spanish coach Kibu Vicuna who joined last month along with four players from Spain.
Since this is a pre-season competition, Vicuna said teams should be allowed five substitutions and that games should go into the tie-breaker after regulation time.
The Durand Cup is likely to seek a permanent slot in the All India Football Federation calendar and, given the response in Kolkata, would want to hold it here in the short-term, according to officials of the organising committee.