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I-League: East Bengal look to brighten title hopes with win over Chennai City FC

East Bengal will aim to solidify their claim for the I-League title when they face Chennai City FC in a crucial encounter in Kolkata on Saturday.

football Updated: Feb 23, 2018 22:08 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
I-League,East Bengal,Chennai City FC
East Bengal face Chennai City FC in a crucial I-League encounter in Kolkata on Saturday.(AIFF)

What makes Saturday’s match between East Bengal and Chennai City FC interesting apart from it involving a team vying for their first I-League and another keen on avoiding a relegation dogfight is whether it takes Khalid Jamil out of his comfort zone.

Like most coaches, Jamil believes that defenders win you a championship while strikers win you matches. So will he alter the shape in East Bengal’s third-last match against a team that sent Mohun Bagan belly-up and led to coach Sanjoy Sen stepping down?

That could mean Mahmoud Al-Amnah playing further up the park than he usually does and partner Dudu Omagbemi. Or, Jamil could give Ansumana Kromah his first start in three games and play all five imports for the first time in over a month.

East Bengal have lost three games one less than Minerva Punjab FC and NEROCA FC both above them in the standings. But the defeats have come at crucial junctures. Bookending East Bengal’s last five games, in which they squandered eight points, are two defeats. It has kept them in third place with 26 points from 15 games.

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But with defending champions Aizawl FC last term, Jamil lost three games in the entire campaign so don’t blame him for eyeing an encore if he can keep the number of defeats from increasing.

True to form Jamil didn’t divulge much. But, after training in the morning, Katsumi Yusa said it like he felt it is.

“The pressure of not having won the league in 15 years is something we have to deal with as professionals,” said the industrious Japanese midfielder.

East Bengal haven’t won the national league since 2004-05 so Yusa, who has won the I-League in four seasons with Mohun Bagan, was off the mark by one year but that took nothing away from the import of what he said.

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Yusa also said he would advise the juniors in the team to think of the match as two games of 45 minutes. And he said that Chennai City FC have no pressure. That point was contested by V Soundararajan.

At the pre-match media conference, the former Railways’ player said: “We need to stay out of the relegation zone and hence will try our best to win tomorrow. Also, if we can beat Mohun Bagan and East Bengal in the same season it would give us a lot of satisfaction.”

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Chennai City FC have 16 points from 16 games but with Indian Arrows and Gokulam Kerala FC exempt from relegation, even staying eighth, which they are now, may not be enough.

Soundararajan is confident of being able to do that after new strikers Aleksander Rakic of Serbia and Montenegro and Korean Donghyeon Kim, neither of whom was here last month, gave him the luxury of starting their highest scorer Jean Michel Joachim on the bench on way to a 3-1 win against Churchill Brothers in the last round. They are unbeaten in the last five games having drawn four.

East Bengal will miss central defender Arnab Mondal who was shown the red card in the 1-2 loss to Gokulam Kerala FC. It is possible that Gurwinder Singh will partner Brazilian Eduardo Ferreira at the heart of the defence.

First Published: Feb 23, 2018 18:42 IST