Kolkata, Aug 30 (PTI) Regaining form after a sluggish start, the reigning Indian Super League champions Mohun Bagan will look to leverage ‘home advantage’ against a formidable FC Goa in Durand Cup semifinal, here on Thursday.
That their arch-rivals East Bengal have already made the final with a stunning penalty shootout win over NorthEast United FC would serve an additional motivation for the Mariners, to overcome the Goan challenge and set up a ‘Super Sunday’ derby showdown in the summit clash.
In the bigger picture, the Manolo Marquez-coached Gaurs have a set squad at their disposal and his return from suspension will be an added boost-up.
But a partisan crowd and the unknown territory of the Salt Lake Stadium — FC Goa played all their Durand Cup matches in Guwahati so far — would challenge them to the hilt.
As a matter of fact, NorthEast United FC experienced it the hard way when they dominated the entire match against East Bengal, only to let it loose in the last two minutes of the added time, which proved fatal.
East Bengal forced a 2-2 equaliser through Nandhakumar Sekar’s header in the 97th minute before sealing their first Durand Cup final in 19 years with a 5-3 win in the penalty shootout.
The Gaurs bounced back from behind to defeat Chennaiyin FC 4-1 in their quarterfinals.
Carl McHugh struck his debut goal while Carlos Martinez, Noah Sadaoui and Victor Rodriguez all found the target.
It remains to be seen how they fare against the most star-studded team of the tournament.
“We know that we are facing a very strong team, who have a lot of money to spend as well. Thus, they can sign very good players,” the Gaurs coach said.
“They have signed practically the best young Indian players in (Anirudh) Thapa, Sahal (Abdul Samad) and so on. They have signed and retained some big names in terms of foreign players as well.
“Facing them in the semi-finals will be a very difficult challenge, but at the same time, it is also a fantastic chance to prepare for the ISL — the atmosphere at the Salt Lake Stadium will be favourable to them, and to face them in such a situation will be a great learning experience,” Marquez summed up the mood.
Mohun Bagan have not had a great build-up — their eight-match winning streak ended against East Bengal in the group stage — and this contest provides another opportunity to find rhythm.
Having a team of stars can create a problem of plenty for any coach and Juan Ferrando finds himself in the same situation, struggling to strike the perfect balance.
Their biggest acquisition, Jason Cummings, is slowly getting into his groove with Indian forward Manvir Singh — something that they demonstrated in 3-1 win over Mumbai City FC in the quarterfinal.
One would hope that Armenian Armando Sadiku too finds his mojo in the midfield with their key player Hugo Boumous.
The best thing to have happened to Mohun Bagan is the signing of India defender Anwar Ali, who has wowed the fans with his every move and would once again play a crucial role, especially in the absence of Brendan Hamill.
Ferrando, however, refused to underestimate FC Goa.
“Like Mumbai, Goa are also a balanced team. This time the team is different from last season. Every match is different. I’ve seen all Goan matches, have a fair idea about their team.
“If we make use of our opportunities, we will make it. It will be a tough contest and every minute will count,” the coach said.
“For various reasons, we didn’t have a good pre-season. We need a few more matches to get our best performance. We want to reach final which would serve as a perfect build-up to our AFC Cup group stage campaign,” he added.
Cummings said the win over Mumbai City FC has bolstered their confidence and the team is looking forward to continue the momentum.
“We are India’s No. 1 side and can beat any side on a given day. We have 7-8 top Indian players, and good foreign lineup. We regained our confidence after Mumbai win.
“Now we hope we reach the final and able to win the trophy. It will give us a good confidence to before the AFC Cup,” the Australian said.
Mohun Bagan last reached the Durand Cup final in 2019 when they lost to Gokulam Kerala FC. The 16 times champions have not won the title since 2000.
FC Goa won their only Durand Cup in 2021 beating Mohammedan Sporting.
Source: PTI News