The much anticipated Kolkata Derby between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal returns to the ‘Mecca of Indian Football’, Saltlake Stadium after 680 days. In the 21st meeting between the two sides in the I-League after its inception in 2007, the heavyweights lock horns early on in the eleventh edition of India’s premier football league.
Head coach of the hosts this game, Sanjoy Sen, who has always ended up on the winning side at home against Khalid Jamil did not pay heed to the statistics. He said, “I don’t live in the past. I believe this will be a crucial game for both sides. This league is about points and I am guessing they too won’t like to drop any.”
Mohun Bagan started their campaign with a 1-1 draw against Minerva Punjab FC away from home where they conceded a late goal after leading for most parts of the game. “The first match, you can be excused but if you continue this in the upcoming games, you will suffer,” Sen cautioned.
“You cannot tell the players that we want to go for a draw. We will go for a win. If we fail to win, a draw won’t be bad. But, any point is important in the league as we have failed to regain the title in the last two seasons. You have to respect the opponents but we are not underdogs,” added Sen.
Star player and captain Sony Norde remained humble on the eve of the game as thousands of Mariners pinned their hopes on the Haitian magician. “It’s not only about me; there are a lot of experienced players. We are ready to fight and let’s hope we keep on the momentum. Playing against them is different. We don’t play with East Bengal the same we play against Lajong for example.”
He continued, “I can score 5 goals tomorrow but if we concede 7 then what is the point? It’s not about me. East Bengal’s defence can be very bad against some other team but against us, they can become very good. If Khalid Jamil sends 3-4 players to stop me, we have enough quality players to make a difference on some other side of the field.”
On the other hand, Khalid Jamil who will get a first taste of the Kolkata derby in the I-League and that too at the majestic Saltlake Stadium remained positive ahead of the contest.
“Both teams have experience. Both sides have quality players and their coach is good and have good foreigners. Both their defence and attack is strong. We have to be alert. We must complete the game and cannot take them lightly. We have to control the things from the start to the end. You have to be patient and have a hold on mental and physical aspect,” said the former I-League winning coach.
“Sony Norde is a good player and so is Aser Pierrick Dipanda Dicka. If we score early goals, we have to sit on it,” Jamil laid down his plans for the crunch game.
Both camps have minimum injury concerns but Mohun Bagan are definitely sweating over the potential return of Yuta Kinowaki and Azharuddin Mallick, who scored the last time these two sides met in the I-League in April 2017.
The Red and Golds will be looking towards Laldanmawia Ralte to fulfil his role on the wings. Katsumi Yusa and Eduardo Ferreira will be pumped up to face their old side for the first time they switched camps during the close season.
Interestingly, this game comes early into the season; in the second round itself and both teams will be itching to register their first win of the season, having been held to draws in their opening contests.
In what is termed by pundits as a two-horse race, both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal will be hoping to not let their respective sets of ferocious fans, which will throng the stadium cone Sunday afternoon.
It is expected to be a full house and the 319th Kolkata Derby kicks off at 2pm IST and will be telecasted on Star Sports 2, Star Sports HD 2 and streamed on Hotstar and Jio TV.