There is a telltale upswing in the interest and curiosity surrounding a 95 year old football event that splits the city apart in distinct loyalties every time it is held. The decibel is on the ascendance once again as debates intensify on which one of the two – East Bengal or Mohun Bagan – will emerge victorious ahead of their 338th meeting at the Salt Lake Stadium on Saturday evening.
Being one of the oldest football derbies in the world, definitely in Asia, the first meeting of the new year between the two has generated quite a lot of heat with hundreds of people lining up for tickets outside the two clubs. Mohun Bagan as the defending I-League champions and with back-to-back wins at home are tipped to be the favourites. East Bengal are no pushovers having statistics on their side.
East Bengal have won 123 compared to the 103 wins Mohun Bagan have in overall (337) meetings. Even in the I-League head-to-head East Bengal have won 14 times and lost 11 times in the 36 occasions the two have squared up against each other. This being the early stage in the two-tier league, neither side is willing to assume the bragging rights as the coaches on either sides prefer caution over enthusiasm.
Mohun Bagan, with six points from two successive wins, are sitting pretty on top of the current standings while East Bengal having won one and drawn the other in their two outstation ventures are placed lower in the rungs. “The Kolkata derby is always about making a statement, stats do not matter here. You do not play the Derby on paper and worry about statistics. The Derby is different, it is about pride,” East Bengal coach and former international Biswajit Bhattacharya was categorical about the uniqueness of the Derby clash.
What will be keeping the East Bengal supporters in a tizzy is the fact that Mohun Bagan will have the full cast of its foreign recruits in Trinidad and Tobago striker Cornell Glen, Haitian forward Sony Norde, Japanese midfielder Katsumi Yusa and Brazilian Luciano Sabrosa. What is keeping the Bagan fans upbeat is that East Bengal have only two fit foreigners (Nigerian striker Ranti Martins and defender Bello Rasaq), one doubtful starter in injured Korean striker Do Dong Hyun and an absentee – the former French international Bernard Mendy, who is yet to arrive despite formalising a contract with the club.
“We are always hopeful of getting three points. I do not want to talk big but would like to play and show it on the ground. It is a great opportunity for all of us in Mohun Bagan to do well at the big stage,” Sanjoy Sen, who guided Mohun Bagan to its first I-League triumph (it’s previous three were NFL crowns) last year, said.