The reigning Indian Super League champion Mohun Bagan Super Giant will be going in as the home favourite when it takes on its top league rival FC Goa in the second semifinal of the 132nd Durand Cup under lights at the Salt Lake Stadium on Thursday. Both the teams are former champions with Mohun Bagan SG winning the Durand Cup a record 16 times while FC Goa has won only once.
Keeping their pre-season preparations in mind, a place in the final will be a priority for both. Mohun Bagan, which last won the title 23 years ago in 2000, needs a trophy to justify the faith of its fans as it plays the first tournament of the new season after the ISL triumph. On the other hand FC Goa, which won the Durand in 2021, also needs the crown to redeem itself in the esteem of its supporters who have been longing to see the team end its title drought for the last two seasons.
All these aspects promise a thrilling contest as the two sides have been in rousing form that can be gauged from their performances so far. FC Goa has remained unbeaten in the season so far and has progressed to the semis scoring an impressive 15 goals so far in its campaign. The last win in the quarterfinals, a 4-1 crushing of Chennaiyin FC, bears testimony of the Gaurs’ strength which is on the ascendance under the stewardship of the astute coach Manolo Marquez. The Spanish gaffer made a move from Hyderabad FC, which claimed the ISL title under his charge, to help FC Goa reclaim its pre-eminence in the country’s club football hierarchy. The Margao-based club would be eager to make this tournament the first milestone in the journey of regaining the pre-eminence.
Ever since he has taken over the charge, Manolo Marquez has assembled a talented bunch of footballers drawn from the club’s hinterland. The squad now has an impressive list that boasts of the likes of the local players like Brandon Fernandez, Rowlin Borges, Devendra Murgaokar, Raynier Fernandes, Seriton Fernandes and Saviour Gama. These names have been joined by the experienced foreigners like Carl Mchugh, Carlos Martinez and Indian stars like Sandesh Jhingan and Udanta Singh, who provide the necessary strength to the Gaurs’ lineup.
“Well, it is always very good for any team to play in the semi-finals of a prestigious tournament like the Durand Cup. It is very good for us also, especially as we’ve been facing some top teams. We have just started the last part of our pre-season preparations prior to the start of the ISL and we’re happy to play in competitive situations like this right now,” Manolo Marquez said before the match.
For Mohun Bagan SG it will be more about keeping its reputation as the champion team of India intact. The Kolkata giant gave an attestation of its prowess when it beat the ISL league shield winner Mumbai City FC in the quarterfinals. Coach Juan Ferrando will be hoping that his team, which arguably is the most expensive outfit in the country in the present context, will continue to perform consistently. Ever since the Mariners suffered a reverse against its traditional rival Emami East Bengal in the group stages of the tournament, it has made a strong comeback winning the next three outings. This included two fluent AFC Cup wins that helped it qualify to the group stage of the continental tournament. The Mumbai City win came thereafter, reinstating the faith of its followers.
We are still undergoing the pre-season preparations. So, for the team’s best form we have to play more matches. Yes, we beat Mumbai but still a lot of improvement is required in the team. We want to go to the final but without seeing any player getting injured. For that we may be making some changes in the formation,” Ferrando said keeping in mind the long season ahead. “We are the best team in India. We have the potential to beat any other clubs. We have seven-eight good National team players. Even the foreigners are also working hard to give their best. After defeating Mumbai we got back the much needed confidence. If we can win a trophy before the ISL and the AFC Cup then it gives extra confidence to the team,” Mohun Bagan’s Australian World Cupper, Jason Cummings put things in perspective.
With Mohun Bagan employing the former ATK (the appendage has been removed from the team’s name this season) head coach Antonio Lopez Habas as the technical director, Ferrando seems to be living under the constant vigil of his senior compatriot. Much like Habas, Ferrando also has ISL title under his belt and has managed to make the star-studded roster of Mohun Bagan SG perform as a team. FC Goa will be another test for the likes of Armando Sadiku, Manvir Singh, Sahal Abdul Samad, Hugo Boumous, Anirudh Thapa, Ashique Kuruniyan besides Cummings to fuse their individual brilliance in bolstering the team’s performance.
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