National Football League champions East Bengal leave for Singapore late Saturday sans two of their star players to play Geylang United Football Club in the first round of the AFC Cup on February 10.
Brazilian Douglas de Silva, a dependable midfield blocker who played a stellar role in the club's ASEAN Cup triumph last year, has stayed away from the game for the last five months following a stress fracture and his absence caused a few worries to coach Subhas Bhowmick.
Also missing from the line-up will be the injured Ghanian wing-back Suley Musah, another ASEAN hero and a pillar of strength in the East Bengal defensive.
A cloud of uncertainty also hangs over the availability of defenders M Suresh and Surkumar Singh, with the former having visa problems, and the latter carrying an injury.
"If I don't get these two for this match, the defence will suffer," Bhowmick said.
The coach, who was scheduled to name the squad for the Singapore trip this morning, decided to delay the announcement till tomorrow to get a clear picture about the availability of the players.
However, he asserted that he would rather look at the positives than the negatives.
"Though I'll miss Douglas and Musah, I now have Christiano Junior, who was not there during the ASEAN Cup campaign in Jakarta,"Bhowmick told newspersons after the morning practice session.
Junior,a lethal striker from Brazil, has given a new thrust to East Bengal's upfront display in the National Football League, scoring seven goals in eight matches after his arrival in the city.
The team has been holding a week-longresidential camp at the same five star hotel where they had put up for a month prior to the ASEAN campaign.
Replyingto a question, Bhowmick said his first priority would be not to lose the lung opener match against Geylang but that did not mean that East Bengal would play a totally defensive game.
"We'rewell prepared. This time also we had a residential camp, though for a shorter duration. My players are, however, tired after the gruelling seaons. Eight of them have just returned from the World Cup qualifying camp," he said.
Star striker Baichung Bhutia expressed confidence that hisside would emrge winner against Gaylang.
"Geylangare a formidable oufit, but we will win. We have had a good build up. Now we need to deliver," he said.
EastBengal have been clubbed in group 'E', along with Geylang, Maldive's Island FC and Negri Sembilan of Malaysia.
Theteams would play in a home and away format. The red and gold brigade would host Negri for their second match at Kolkata on Feburary 25.