In the last remaining first leg fixture of the I-League, a buoyant Indian Arrows hosts Kolkata giant East Bengal at the Kalinga stadium in Bhubaneshwar on Tuesday.
Both teams are in good form with the visitor unbeaten in four games and the host only going down narrowly to a strong Churchill Brothers en route to picking up seven points in its last four with two wins.
Although the gulf between the two sides on paper is a given, Arrows has been relentless and dangerous throughout the campaign accounting for some big scalps along the way. EB’s Spanish coach Alejandro Garcia will know that an off-day cannot be afforded against it.
Garcia has utilised the January transfer window to bolster his attack with the signing of fellow Spaniard Toni Dovale from Cyprus. Manipuri midfielder Siam Hanghal has also been drafted in on a loan deal.
Jobby Justin remains the premiere target-man for EB with six quality goals in the league campaign so far and combined with Jamie Colado and Laldanmawia Ralte, there is enough flair in the EB attack to comfortably overcome the Arrows on their day.
“First, we must respect the Arrows team,” stressed Garcia on matchday eve, making it clear that his team was far from being complacent going into the game. “We know that it won’t be an easy match for us and we will try to win and we have to be very competitive and do all the things we have prepared for. If we win, we will be at the top in this league,” he concluded, forecasting possibilities in the near future.
Arrows has settled into a rhythm and its relentless pace has been causing many fancied teams issues. It has been finding new goal-scorers every day, the latest being Rohit Danu, drafted in from the India U-16 side.
There is also a sense of percentage play expected from the ‘seniors’ of the side like Rahul KP, Amarjit Kiyam, Boris Singh and others, and coach Floyd Pinto has no doubt exceeded expectations so far.
Appearing in his usual expressive self at the pre-game press conference, Pinto gave a hint of his strategy saying, “Like every match, we have prepared ourselves to be in our best possible condition and the last four games went really well.”
He also seemed well aware of the context, stating, “There are a lot of factors for tomorrow’s game. East Bengal are well rested and got some new players. It will be interesting to see what combination we can put in and how the boys tackle the new East Bengal.”
It is another mountain to climb, though, for the Arrows youngsters come Tuesday, given that the visitor will go all out for a win. Three points would not only place EB fourth on the table with 19 points but will also make it the most favourably placed to challenge leader Chennai City, especially as it has an extra game in hand.
Arrows, on the other hand, will do all in its powers to sustain the positive winds that have started to blow for it and will not go down without a fight.