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I-League: Kolkata's showpiece Mohun Bagan-East Bengal derby could give league much needed shot in arm

The infamous boro (big) match of the Kolkata football circuit returns to Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan on Sunday after a span of almost two years when Mohun Bagan and East Bengal face each other in the first Kolkata derby of the season.

In spite of AIFF’s constant reassurances regarding I-League’s status as the top professional league of the nation, it is fair to assume that the simultaneous scheduling of Indian Super League has had a cataclysmic effect on the elder, poorer cousin of the ISL. The quality of live broadcast of the I-League games has been a genuine concern for fans and critics alike, and the 2 pm kick-off in order to facilitate the broadcasting of more lucrative ISL matches later in the evening hasn’t been received kindly by the clubs or their fans.

 I-League: Kolkatas showpiece Mohun Bagan-East Bengal derby could give league much needed shot in arm

The Mohun Bagan squad does not boast of an India international. Image courtesy: Twitter/@Mohun_Bagan

Combine an early start with the lack of ‘big names’ in the teamsheet of either club, and the derby in its 93rd year seems a mere shadow of the glorious years gone by. While the likes of Bhaichung Bhutia and Dulal Biswas captivated fans, having donned the colours of both clubs during their careers and managing to bridge the divide in arguably one of the fiercest derbies in Asian football, Sunday’s match will be bereft of the quality Indian players.

One could be hard-pressed to remember the last time when a Mohun Bagan squad did not boast of an India international. Yet, with just three India international players in the East Bengal ranks and only two bonafide superstars of the league — Sony Norde and Katsumi Yusa — between them, a display of unparalleled transcendence from the two clubs could give the I-League a much needed shot in the arm.

“There is pressure for each and every match. This is nothing different. There has been no difference in preparation. But it is a vital match for us,” said Khalid Jamil, who seemed relaxed yet confident about his team’s chances. The Red & Gold Army had started brilliantly in their first game of the campaign, against the defending champions Aizawl FC, racing to a 2-0 lead but defensive lapses cost them two crucial points as Aizawl came back from behind to draw the game.

While former Mohun Bagan man Katsumi Yusa holds the key to East Bengal’s attacking plaudits, Jamil will hope Willis Plaza joins the party in his sophomore season in India. East Bengal’s defence was the cause of concern in the opening fixture. Unless Eduardo Ferreira, Salam Ranjan Singh and Deepak Kumar tighten their game, Norde could prove to be a handful for Jamil’s side.

“We have to be alert. We must complete the game and cannot take them lightly. We have to control things from the start to the end. You have to be patient and have a hold on the mental and physical aspect of the game,” Jamil said, acknowledging that his side were working on overcoming their recent shortcomings.

Mohun Bagan were left wanting in their opening fixture as well, only managing a 1-1 draw against minnows Minerva FC after conceding a late equaliser. Having struggled in the transfer market due to a depleted player pool, last season’s I-League runners-up have their task cut out, heavily relying on Norde’s brilliance and Sanjoy Sen’s tactical astuteness.

Bagan skipper Norde, however, believes that stopping East Bengal will need a massive team effort. “If the East Bengal coach sends three-four players to stop me, we have enough quality players to make a difference on some other side of the field. It's not only about me, there are a lot of experienced players,” Norde told journalists.

The Haitian forward also admitted that the prospect of the boro derby brings the best out of both squads. “Playing against East Bengal is different. Their defence might have been bad against some other team, but against us, they can become very good,” a circumspect Norde said, but quickly add, “We are ready to fight and let's hope we keep on the momentum.”

Bagan will need to put their best foot forward and must execute every tactical plan to perfection to gain an advantage over East Bengal — while it is still early days as far as the title race is concerned, the derby in itself is a showpiece event for the football fanatics in Kolkata, helping the fans gain bragging rights over their arch-rivals in case of a victory.

“I don’t live in the past. We will go for a win,” asserted Mohun Bagan manager Sanjoy Sen, promising an enthralling contest on Sunday.

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Updated Date: Dec 03, 2017 10:11:04 IST