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East Bengal gunning for 15th Durand title

January 09, 2003 17:09 IST

Kolkata giants East Bengal will be gunning for their 15th Durand Cup title when they take on Army XI in the final of the tournament at the Ambedkar stadium in Delhi on Friday.

East Bengal, whose record of 14 cup triumphs is second only to Mohun Bagan's 16, enter the final as firm favourites. They last won the title in 1995, beating Tata Football Academy 4-3 via the penalty shoot-out, and ended runners-up in 1998 and 99.

Army XI, who have been the traditional hosts to one of oldest tournaments in the game since its inception in 1888, are making their maiden appearance in a Durand final.

Without discrediting the military men, it can be safely said that the army team's entry reflects the lacklustre fare in the current edition.

The name Durand is associated with past pomp and glory of Indian football, but the scheduling and pre-tournament controversies surrounding the non-participation of big teams like Mohun Bagan robbed the event of some of its sheen.

The absence of star players meant one of the poorest crowd turnouts in the tournament's history.

East Bengal though have done well to capitalise on the opportunity to give themselves a good shot at the coveted title. The West Bengal outfit has done well considering they are without the services of six of their senior players.

They suffered a shocking reverse against MEG, Bangalore, in the league stage but Subhas Bhowmick, the team's
coach,

explained it away as an aberration.

"Yes, we lost, but the team did well that day. We failed to take our chances but we did not play too badly," he said.

Bhowmick was pragmatic in his assessment of the team's performance in the tournament and said he was happy with the team's 1-0 win over Salgaocar, the other major force in the tournament, in the semi-final on Wednesday.

"I would like to take one match at a time. We are missing our key players, and so do other teams. In such circumstances, I am happy with the result," he said.

The former champions have shown little flaw in their defence and midfield, while they might have looked overly dependent on their Nigerian import Mike Okoro up front. They are clearly missing a second striker.

The Army team though is a jubiliant lot. They have played a typical 'the quick and the dead' game, firing before their opponents could. What they lack in talent has been well supplemented by physique and staying power.

The manner in which the likes of Pradip Debnath and Saroj Gurung have left the opponents gasping through their sheer speed goes to show what self-belief can achieve over polished skill.

And if luck be with them tomorrow, as it was on Tuesday against Mohammedan Sporting in the semi-final, they could very well upset the applecart of East Bengal.

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