Fed Cup: Bagan wary of Lajong threat

While the Mariners ran out 7-2 aggregate winners over Salgaocar in the last round, Lajong needed extra time to book its berth, winning 4-3 on aggregate against another Kolkata outfit East Bengal.

Mohun Bagan's Sony Norde celebrates after scoring a goal against Salgaocar in the previous round.   -  AIFF

Former champion Mohun Bagan finds a youthful Shillong Lajong FC standing up with the challenge as it seeks to regain the Federation Cup crown after a gap of eight years. The two meet in the first leg of the tournament’s semifinal at the Vidyasagar Stadium in Barasat, on Sunday and the clash assumes significance in the way two progressed to the last-four stage.

Mohun Bagan, the I-League runner-up, showed good form and efficiency in securing a 7-2 aggregate against a traditionally strong Salgaocar SC, which it beat 3-2 in Goa before thrashing the same opponent 4-0 at home. Shillong Lajong FC, which has sought to focus on youth development after severing its ties with the ISL outfit North East United FC a barely a year ago, had to toil hard to overcome another former champion, East Bengal, 4-3 in aggregate (2-1 and 2-2).

When the Mohun Bagan coach, Sanjoy Sen, was asked whether the quarterfinal results give his team the favourite tag, the gaffer said Lajong FC is a tough opponent and his boys need to guard against complacency.

“On current form, Lajong are stronger than East Bengal. They defeated East Bengal twice and the last draw (the 2-2 result in the second leg) was as good as victory. It will be a tough challenge and we will have to be careful,” Sen, who guided Mohun Bagan to the I-League crown last season, said.

Aware of the expectations in the fans, who have started hoping for the first title of the season after Bagan thrashed Salgaocar, Sen said the match will be tougher than expected. The astute coach cited the example of the recent Champions League semifinal to put things in perspective.

“You cannot score three or four goals every day. We have to maintain a clean sheet and look to hold onto whatever we score (when visiting Shillong in the second leg). Look at the Champions League semifinal between Real Madrid and Manchester City, it was just one goal over two legs that decided the tie,” Sen said after the practice on Saturday.

Unlike the previous outings, where injuries had been a concern, Sen will have the full squad at disposal in this match. The host will thus look to create a sufficient cushion before progressing to the hills in Shillong, where Lajong FC is big threat.

Lajong FC coach Thangboi Singto harped on the energy of his youthful side, which is built around the selections from the talent pool of the region. Saying that the opponent packs a host of star players, Singhto hoped the excellent camaraderie among his players will dilute the apparent notion of superiority that Mohun Bagan enjoys.

“I wish Bagan only had Sony Norde. But, they also have Jeje Lalpekhlua, Katsumi Yusa, Cornell Glen and others. This game will be a battle of attrition and I don’t think we have any advantage as we will be playing the home game later. We have a good camaraderie in the team and that is getting translated on the field,” the Lajong coach said.

The visitor will miss the services of defender Robin Guring, who is serving a suspension for being red-carded against East Bengal in the first leg.

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