The Durand Cup 2022 has been nothing short of a thriller but its climax is yet to be written. This year’s Durand Cup has seen all the ingredients that usually make for an exciting tournament- last-minute goals, underdogs knocking out heavyweights along with some delectable football.
Eighty six matches later, two teams, Mumbai City FC and Bengaluru FC stand on the cusp of history with the chance of adding the prestigious Durand Cup to their trophy cabinet for the first time when the teams play the final on Sunday, September 18.
Mumbai City FC can relate a lot with FC Goa right now.
The Gaurs too clinched their first Durand Cup title last in 2021 after beating Mohammedan SC in front of their home crowd at the Salt Lake Stadium.
Mumbai City too, broke Mohammedan hearts for the second successive year after beating it in the semifinals, again in front of home fans.
The Islanders are still a match away from claiming the big prize but head coach Des Buckingham is very vocal about his excitement.
“To arrive in the final by playing the football we have, it feels good. We have scored the highest number of goals in the competition and also have the top scorers (Lallianzuala Chhangte and Greg Stewart) in our team. So to me, it is just exciting that our club has reached its first Durand Cup final,” said Buckingham in a chat with Sportstar.
Despite having an eye on the coveted trophy, Buckingham is looking at the progress of his team on a broader spectrum. He has some top-notch domestic and foreign players at his disposal but it is their functioning as a unit and the maturity on display that is proving to be satisfying for the Mumbai City head coach.
“I was really pleased about the winning goal the other night (Bipin Singh’s 90th-minute winner against Mohammedan SC in the semifinals). It was a wonderful move. In the position Chhangte was in, it is very common for players to try and shoot from there but he had the composure to find Bipin who had made a fantastic run to the back-post.”
“I think that has been the most exciting thing- the unselfishness of the players and how they are starting to link up.”
Apart from having an enviable attacking arsenal, Buckingham received a timely boost in defence with the arrival of captain Mourtada Fall after his return from injury. Buckingham said that Fall, with his leadership qualities, is a crucial player to have in the final but acknowledged the work Rostyn Griffiths has been doing in the backline.
“We brought Rostyn from Melbourne City FC and he is a very experienced defender. When Mourtada was away, the way Rostyn stepped into the role, he pretty much lead the backline and lead it well. We all know about Rostyn’s ability and what he is capable of.”
The head coach went on to say that it is just not about having a player but assessing whether he is ready physically and mentally to be involved in the thick of things. That is why once Fall was back, he was not immediately included in the main action as Buckingham and his support staff had to check whether the player was in a space where he was expected to be.
“Throw him [Fall] in too early, there is the risk of him getting injured especially because he has so much time off,” said Buckingham when asked about his captain’s return.
Once he saw that the workload wasn’t proving too overwhelming for the Senegalese defender, he was allowed to play the full 90 minutes against Mohammedan in the semis.
Talking about defensive depth, Buckingham said that it was a conscious decision to try out the defensive duo of his two foreign centre-backs- Fall and Griffiths. This is a luxury the Islanders coach did not have last year.
Gameplan for D-Day
Throughout the tournament, Bengaluru FC has at times shown tendencies to soak the pressure and play on the counter, especially in the early stages of the match. However, Buckingham said that his team would be walking on a tightrope if it believes that Bengaluru will resort to a defensive approach after having attacking gems like Javier Hernandez, Roy Krishna and Sunil Chhetri in its ranks.
Having worked with Roy Krishna during his Wellington Phoenix days in the A-League, Buckingham is well aware of Krishna’s capabilities way before he started making strides in Indian football.
“It is not only about individual skill Bengaluru has but the attacking prowess they possess when the players link up. We will have our game plan and I am focusing on what we do with the ball and without it. We’ll focus on our approach to how we attack and defend. With cup finals you never know- that is the beauty of cup games. What you can do is prepare your players and staff as well as you can.”
Living in the moment
Buckingham said the drill is simple leading up to the final- “focus on rest and recovery.” Countless hours on the drawing board, preparing the team for various scenarios and the added pressure of playing in a cup final- are part and parcel of a professional footballer’s routine.
Many players, even in their long careers, don’t reach finals. So, it is important to give our best and stick to the plan, but also grasp the moment and enjoy ourselves.”
— Des Buckingham to Sportstar
But despite all that, Buckingham said that he keeps re-iterating a simple message that he wants his players to imbibe- “enjoy the moment.”
“These occasions do not come every day, but we want our players to be as relaxed as possible. Many players, even in their long careers, don’t reach finals. So, it is important to give our best and stick to the plan, but also grasp the moment and enjoy ourselves.”