Emami East Bengal will look to continue its optimistic run under new coach Carles Cuadrat when it plays NorthEast United in the semifinal of the Durand Cup 2023 at the Salt Lake Stadium on Tuesday.
The Red-and-Gold brigade, which has finished in the bottom-three of the Indian Super League in the last three seasons, has found its Superman in Cuadrat, who had previously led Bengaluru FC to the ISL title in his previous stint in Indian Football.
East Bengal beat arch-rival Mohun Bagan Super Giant after four years and made its way to the quarterfinals as the Group A topper and then beat 2019 Durand Cup winner, Gokulam Kerala, to secure its spot in the final four.
If it beats NEUFC on Tuesday, it will qualify for the Durand Cup final after 19 years.
It’s definitely going to be a tough match, but our players know their roles well. As a unit, we are working in the right direction,” Cuadrat told reporters on the eve of the match against NorthEast United.
NorthEast, on the other hand, is also enjoying a purple patch under new coach Juan Pedro Benali.
The team, which finished bottom of the ISL last season, has remained unbeaten in the Durand Cup this season, registering commanding wins over Shillong Lajong and Downtown Heroes FC.
However, the team has failed to beat an ISL side so far in the tournament, drawing 2–2 with FC Goa, which will be in action in the other semifinal, against Mohun Bagan Super Giant.
The Highlanders will rest their hopes on finding goals from French striker Romain Philippoteaux and local boy Parthib Gogoi, who has four goals from as many games in the tournament, including a hat-trick in their opener against Shillong Lajong.
“This semifinal isn’t just another match. We’re playing in Kolkata against the home team, in front of their fans. And East Bengal are a team with quality players in all positions and on the bench too,” Benali said before the match.
“We’re here to represent our region and fight for our people. Our fans believe in us, and we want to make them proud. Together, as one, we’ll give it our all and make history.”
East Bengal is expected to stick with Javier Siverio as its sole No. 9 in front in a 4-3-3 shape with Nandhakumar Sekar and Naorem Mahesh Singh on either side of the flank.
However, its most important strategy will be set-pieces – something that has seen it win two of its four games in the tournament so far. And Jordan Elsy, its 1.88 metre-tall centre-back, who found the winner in the quarterfinal, will be the most common suspect.
“We are in the semifinals after playing out an intense quarterfinal against Gokulam. NorthEast United have been unbeaten in this tournament so far. They have a good mix of youth and experience, which makes them a very competitive opponent,” Cuadrat said.
The quarterfinal between Emami East Bengal and North East United will be played at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan (Salt Lake Stadium), with the kick-off scheduled at 4 pm.
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