I-League: Gearing up for a mouth-watering Kolkata derby

The enthusiasm surrounding the oldest football rivalry of the continent — between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan — has reached a fever pitch as the traditional opponents match strength and formidability both in terms of form and statistics.

Mohun Bagan captain Katsumi Yusa pose with East Bengal's Mehtab Hossain, Lalrindika Ralte and coach Trevor Morgan ahead of the season's first derby.

East Bengal and Mohun Bagan will relive their historic rivalry when the two meet in an I-League fixture here at the Kanchenjungha Stadium on Sunday to decide pole position in the current standings.

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The enthusiasm surrounding the oldest football rivalry of the continent has reached a fever pitch as the traditional opponents match strength and formidability both in terms of form and statistics.

What makes the match even more exclusive is the fact that both of them are placed on a rare plane of similarity when it comes to performance. Both are placed in the top two positions of the current league table and also are the only sides in the tournament that have not lost a match so far.

READ: >Rival coaches sing the same tune

East Bengal is on top with 19 points and has won all its last six matches out of the seven it played (the first one was a draw) while Mohun Bagan has five wins to its credit in the six outings to be second with 16 points.

This is only the fourth occasion — in a long history of 96 years — when the two meet here outside their home in Kolkata (the Salt Lake Stadium since late 80s) and the bustling town of North Bengal has welcomed this move with adequate enthusiasm.

HISTORY: >All you need to know about the Kolkata derby

This is East Bengal’s home ground and the host expects around 25,000 supporters. There is a sizeable Mohun Bagan support too giving the two sides the right impetus to go for full points.

Adding to the milieu of excitement is the presence of two 26-year-old Indian forwards, who are drawing more attention than the foreigners in the two sides.

The presence of Jeje Lapekhlua, who became the most prolific striker of the country last season, in Mohun Bagan and East Bengal’s Robin Singh are the talking point ahead of the key clash.

Jeje missed a penalty late in the action as Bagan lost the match 1-2 when the two teams met here in April in last year’s I-League.

ALSO READ: >5 most memorable encounters

The Mizoram striker would like to redeem himself with a better showing as he joins the likes of Scotsman Darryl Duffy and Sony Norde in the Bagan attack.

East Bengal has re-inducted Punjab’s Robin Singh — who made his I-League debut in the side in 2010 before moving to Bengaluru FC — and his good form in the attack is keeping home supporters buoyant.

Both the teams have won once each in the last five meetings (between March 2014 and April 2016) in the I-League while the rest three ended in 1-1 draws, giving enough pointers about the impending clash.

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