On the threshold of repeating their old record of six consecutive local league titles, table toppers East Bengal will renew their traditional rivalry with Mohun Bagan in the season’s first derby before an expected large turnout of vociferous fans at the relaid grass surface of the Salt Lake stadium here on Sunday.
The Calcutta Football League (CFL) Premier Division-A clash between the arch-rivals, which always generates intense passion, excitement, and at times violence, takes place in the backdrop of the defending champions almost looking assured of the title, though technically Mohun Bagan still have a chance to catch up if they win all their remaining matches.
Gleaning 22 points from eight games, defending champions East Bengal hold the pole position now, and a mere draw will put them in an unassailable position.
The red and gold brigade, the only unbeaten side in the ongoing tourney, previously won six back-to-back titles in the highest division of the CFL from 1970 to 1975, and an encore is sure to trigger massive celebrations in the city, elsewhere in the state, as also various parts of the world where their legions of fans now live.
This is the first contest between the two rivals after Mohun Bagan claimed the I-League title to bring much cheer in this soccer-crazy city around three months ago, but the mariners have failed to keep up the momentum in the CFL.
They now occupy the fifth position with 11 points from six games, not counting their 3-1 victory over Tollygunge Agragami following the protest lodged by the latter which is now pending before the authorities.
East Bengal have their spirits high after winning comprehensively against almost all the other opponents. Twice they have rallied back to triumph from a two goal deficit.
Bagan, on the other hand, have had their ups and downs. They have won some ties with big margins but lost out to Army XI in one of the turning points of the league. The green and maroons then faced a rain-induced washout against Aryan FC on August 31.
However, winning the match would be of prime importance to Bagan who would then still be in the title race. The responsibilities to deliver in the crunch contest will be on the foreigners who have been the club’s brightest hopes in the gloomiest of times.
Japanese midfielder Katsumi Yusa and Nigerian forward Dudu Omagbemi need to combine well if they would want to break open the East Bengal defence which has been quite wobbly this season.
Kean Lewis also needs to play out of his skin to win his side the game.
On the other hand the Bagan defence have to be on their toes from the very first minute as East Bengal’s South Korean midfielder Do Dong-hyun has been in a league of his own so far in the few matches he has plied his trade in.
But in the final analysis, the team which can overcome their nerves will have the last laugh in the high-voltage game, that even features in world football’s governing body FIFA’s classic derby list.