It was a joyous occasion for the fans of Mohammedan Sporting Club when Mohammed Soen and Tolgay Ozbey’s goals helped the Black Panthers defeat the Oil and Natural Gas Football Corporation (ONGC) Football Club at the Ambedkar Stadium in New Delhi and lift the Durand Cup in 2013.
It was the club’s first Durand Cup triumph since 1940 and it was also the last time the trophy came to Kolkata. Now, Mohammedan SC has the chance to lift the trophy again and this time in front of its passionate supporters, who will undoubtedly adorn the Salt Lake Stadium with the famous Black and White club colours.
It has been a good campaign for Mohammedan as it has lost just one game in its road to the final. The players and UEFA Pro License Holder coach Andrey Chernyshov, however, know that they face the daunting task of overcoming Juan Ferrando’s well-drilled FC Goa, which has not lost a single match in its path to the final.
“We will play against FC Goa in the final and this is one of the best teams in India. I think two years ago they won the Super League (ISL) and they played together with the players. This is good for the team. We know they are strong, but they also have some problems which we also know and now we want good preparation for this game. We will watch them, we will explain to our players how to play, what is their stronger side and what is the weaker side and I think we wait for an interesting game on Sunday and people who come for the game would like to watch the match,” said Chernyshov to Sportstar.
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Speaking about his experience of working with the Russian U-21 team and one of the biggest clubs in Russia, Spartak Moscow, Chernyshov emphasised the importance of building a team not only good on paper but with players who are disciplined in their private lives, which goes a long way in maintaining fitness throughout a taxing season.
Despite a good campaign, there have been areas of concern in the Kolkata side and Chernyshov addressed that: “We are strong but sometimes we have problems in the game. We know about these problems, and we spoke about them to our goalkeeper coach, my fitness coach. We know where our problems are and every day, we work towards that. Every team has a strong and a weak side, but it is important to know them, so we know that, and we are working on that every day.”
Absence of the other two Kolkata Giants
The absence of ATK Mohun Bagan and SC East Bengal from this year’s Durand Cup has drawn criticism from fans of both clubs.
While ATKMB decided to rest its players after the pre-season and the AFC Cup matches, where the Kolkata club reached the inter-zonal semifinal, arguments were raised about coach Antonio Lopez Habas’ inefficiency to make optimum use of the rich squad depth the club has.
For East Bengal, it was more a matter of circumstance rather than intent as the club officials were embroiled in a tussle with the club’s investors regarding signing of a term sheet, raising doubts about East Bengal’s possibility of assembling a team for this year’s ISL.
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Asked about the absence of the two clubs in a competition where both have such a rich legacy, Chernyshov said: “If some clubs don’t want to play the tournament it’s not our problem really. I don’t want to speak about the teams because too many good teams came to Kolkata. This is Durand Cup, a very interesting tournament and a very difficult tournament and we are here. We want to play the final. This is good for us, and I think next year more strong teams will come for this tournament. This is good for Indian Football if many strong clubs play in this tournament.”
The Marcus Joseph factor
When Pedro Manzi scored for FC Bengaluru United against Mohammedan in the first semifinal within 20 seconds, one could almost hear a pin drop in the Salt Lake Stadium. However, it was the Trinidad and Tobago striker, Marcus Joseph who rose to the occasion and converted the silence to cries of elation as he brought his team back into the game by scoring a wonderful solo goal just eight minutes later.
Ahead of the final, in a conversation with Sportstar, Joseph shows no signs of nervousness. “Football is on the day. About Goa’s defence, I don’t know much about them but on the day, they can make mistakes and I just need to capitalise on their mistakes they make,” he said.
A fan favourite, Joseph understands the importance of the final and about the vociferous support he and his team will receive in the final. “For me, it’s all about making the fans happy at the end of the day so if you’re nervous if fans are there on the day and you cannot play to make fans happy. I am not nervous, I am just pretty confident and very happy that the fans are very interested in me so I will continue doing what I am doing,” said Joseph.