A rejuvenated Prayag United SC will be gunning to extend their winning form when they take on giants Mohun Bagan in the second round of the I-League at Kolkata’s Salt Lake Stadium on Friday.
Having played second fiddle to the bigwigs of the local hierarchy for a considerable period, United SC has evolved in a big way this season with a multi-crore purse and with star signings that have outshone the traditional giants. The target obviously stays the I-League title and United SC made the right start with a 5-1 win against Air India in the opener.
On the other hand, Mohun Bagan have failed to live up to the promise despite ruling the headlines in the pre-season transfers, where it affected a virtual coup roping in Australian striker Tolgay Ozbey from arch-rivals East Bengal.
The impending contest will be a good assessment of the virtues that each team has set out to convince their supporters. The away match against Shillong Lajong FC in the opening round proved a disaster as Mohun Bagan lost the match 0-2.
“Our opponents are strong and high on confidence after a big win in the first match. My team is also good and hope that we start performing to our potential,” Bagan coach Santosh Kashyap said.
Kashyap, like most of the team’s supporters, has been hoping that their two big investments – Nigerian striker Odafa Okolie and Ozbey – would combine well and get the goals. Bagan would also be looking for an effective coordination in its midfield and defence, which so far not been able to perform in consonance.
Prayag United coach Sanjoy Sen has been able to dispel the doubts, which had cropped up after the team’s early exit from the Federation Cup, with a morale-boosting win against Air India.
“As far as I remember Prayag United have never lost to Mohun Bagan during my tenure,” Sen banked on this enviable record ahead of the second round test. “Our team is in good shape especially after the big win in the first round.”
Sen is particularly confident with the way his two foreigners Nigerian Ranty Martins – who scored a hat-trick – and Costa Rican Carlos Hernandes combined in the win against Air India.
However, Prayag United will be missing the services of its Nigerian defender Bello Rasaq, who is suspended because of a red card he received in the previous match. Indian international Gouramangi Singh, who missed the first match with fever, is set to return and would have to shoulder the responsibility of holding Mohun Bagan’s famed attack in absence of Rasaq.
The kick-off is at 2.30pm.
Meanwhile, a confident Shillong Lajong Football Club aim to carry on the momentum when they take on Federation Cup semifinalists Salgaocar SC.
The Goan outfit, who had suffered a defeat at the hands of United Sikkim in their first match, stay aware about the significance of the match.
“I wanted to go back home with at least four points from the first two matches but the defeat in Sikkim has come as a frustration and we will go all out to win the match,” Salgaocar Coach Karim Bencherifa uttered.
“The boys are home sick as they have been away from home for the past 20 days. First we played in Jamshedpur in the Federation Cup and from there we shifted to Siliguri. And even as most teams went back to their respective places after the Federation Cup, we moved directly to Gangtok,” he added. “Lajong are a good side who play a physical game,” he concluded.
Preparing for the other game, Dempo Sports Club coach Armando Colaco admits he is “extra cautious” ahead of his team’s clash against Sporting Clube de Goa.
Despite being far away from their best, Dempo won the opening match 2-1 against Churchill Brothers. But it is Sporting Clube’s superlative performance against East Bengal that has given the defending champions the jitters.
“I was amazed the way Sporting Clube played against East Bengal and that too without any foreign players. They have a lot of spunk are filled with energy and will come hard at us. We have to be extra cautious against them.” said the former India coach.
Sporting fielded an all Indian side in the opening match and the trend could continue. “We do not feel the need to make any changes. These boys are capable of upsetting the odds,” said Alvares.
The kick-off is at 7pm and the match will be telecast live on Ten Action Plus.