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East Bengal, Salgaocar face-off in Fed Cup final

September 28, 2011 19:20 IST

Twice lucky on their road to the third successive Federation Cup football final, two-time defending champions East Bengal will take on I-League winners Salgaocar in the title clash of the 33rd edition of the tournament, in Kolkata on Thursday.

The much-awaited encounter between the two sides –- both have already qualified for the AFC Cup on the basis of their performance in the I-League and the ongoing tournament respectively -- will be a repeat of the summit clash in 1997 when the Goans prevailed 2-1.

Cut to this edition, East Bengal did not look convincing in their wins, with dubious refereeing in their match against Dempo and Prayag United SC playing a role in their passage to the final.

The reigning I-League champions, on the other hand, have been clinical in their approach and are yet to concede a goal after four matches (three in quarterfinal group league and one in semifinal).

More than winning the title, the final will give East Bengal coach James Morgan an opportunity to set the record straight against a side, which pipped his boys for the I-League crown last season.

However, it will not be easy for the Englishman as he will have to make do with a half-fit Mehtab Hussain, the playmaker who gives thurst to East Bengal's attack.

Hussain, who has been chosen the 'Best Player' of the country recently, is grappling with a groin injury that ruled him out of the semifinal, along with defender Raju Gaikwad.

Known for his bold decisions, it will be interesting to see Morgan's ploy in case Hussain and Gaikwad fail the fitness test before kick-off.

In their last match, Morgan was not afraid to bench the seasoned Orji Penn in place of new recruit Alan Gow. It's a move that did not pay immediate result but Morgan persisted with the duo as United SC faltered before conceding two red cards.

To complicate matters, East Bengal's main striker Tolgay Ozbey is yet to find the net in the tournament, but Morgan said there was nothing to worry about.

"He is doing all other work and has been fine with passing skills. It's just a matter of time that he gets his first goal of the season," Morgan said.

"Our players are not super humans. It's a knockout tournament, so it depends on who does better on that particular day."

Asked if he would have revenge in mind for their I League loss to Salgaocar, Morgan said, "It's a different season, a different year. We are looking forward to the match."

On the brighter side, Robin Singh will come out of suspension to partner Ozbey up front, that painted a sorry picture in their last match with an erratic Baljit Singh Sahni alongside the Australian.

Robin has already scored two goals in the tournament and East Bengal would hope for more from the lanky 21-year-old youngster from Delhi.

Besides, the huge red and gold supporters in the 120,000 capacity Yuba Bharati Krirangan will be a boost for East Bengal in their quest for a hat-trick of titles, which, if they achieve, will equal Mohun Bagan's feat.

With the final being held on their home turf, it will be a fitting occasion for East Bengal who had notched their last two victories in Cuttack (2010) and Guwahati (2009).

Salgaocar coach Karim Bencherifa, who won the title for Mohun Bagan against Dempo at the same venue in 2008, however would be familiar with the ground realities.

The three-time Federation Cup champions last won the title 14 years ago, and Bencherifa said he was looking forward to the contest.

"Kolkata has been lucky for me. We will give our best. I am looking forward to the challenge," Bencherifa said.

Now with Salgaocar, Edeh Chidi will have fond memories of his four goals in Mohun Bagan's historic 5-3 win over East Bengal, and the Nigerian will hope for another fine outing on Thursday.

The Goans have defender Luciano Sabrosa (ankle twist) in injury list while Mehrajuddin Wadoo will be out due to suspension.

Well aware of the situation, Bencherifa hoped dubious refereeing doesn't take away the sheen from the contest.

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