A triumph for Kolkata

Well-deserved win… East Bengal players celebrate with the Federation Cup. Joining in the fun are the club's supporters.-ASHOKE CHAKRABARTY

East Bengal, the defending champion, helped Kolkata extend its stranglehold over the Federation Cup by registering its seventh victory of the tournament. Amitabha Das Sharma reports.

India's two major football tournaments where the best of the National clubs participate, the Federation Cup and the I-League, continue to be dominated by the traditional rivals, Bengal and Goa. While the Kolkata clubs, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, have reigned supreme in the Federation Cup, winning it in turns from 2006, the Goan teams, Dempo Sports Club and Churchill Brothers, have ruled the I-League (earlier called the National Football League) during the period.

The unique polarisation was underscored when East Bengal retained the Federation Cup, beating its arch-rival Mohun Bagan in the final at the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack on October 2. Incidentally, the tournament saw both Dempo and Churchill Brothers failing against the early efflorescence of the Kolkata clubs in the semifinals.

Dempo, which has won the NFL/I-League the most number of times — four — has been able to win the Federation Cup only once. Similarly the 2009 I-League champion and many times runner-up Churchill Brothers is yet to taste success in the Federation Cup. On the other hand, Mohun Bagan has claimed the Federation Cup the most number of times, 13, followed by East Bengal, which has won it seven times. The two Kolkata sides have no doubt won the NFL three-times each, but the last time that either of them emerged triumphant in the tournament was five years ago.

“The clubs from Bengal and Goa represent the two power centres of Indian football. It is no surprise that they have been dominating the contest everywhere,” says the Mohun Bagan coach, Stanley Rozario, who is one of the few to have trained clubs from both Bengal and Goa.

“The Goan clubs put more emphasis on midfield and tend to play an overtly passing game. The Kolkata teams, in contrast, have a more direct approach and try to dominate the attack,” says Rozario, who also worked as assistant coach of the National team alongside Bob Houghton, the chief coach, before beginning his club career.

The difference in football philosophies of the two regions reflects the nature of success they enjoy. The Kolkata teams' direct approach helps them in the short-duration knockout tournaments like the Federation Cup. On the other hand, the Goan outfits' persistence with creative game enables them to flourish in the longer I-League format that tests a team's consistency and endurance.

Rozario also applauds the Goan teams' gradual crossover to the European system that calls for persistence with a core group of players over many seasons. “Just look at the way Dempo works with its players, helping them to develop as a unit over the years. This has definitely shown in the team's performance, especially in the I-League,” he explains.

“Clubs like Dempo really shape your career. A player hardly feels the pressure of being dropped if he fails to perform in a few matches,” says Dempo striker Joaquim Abranches, who has been with the club for the last five seasons.

Abranches, who recently won the ‘best young player' award instituted by the Football Players' Association of India, says he owes his success to the Dempo coach Armando Colaco, “who helped me graduate as a professional.” Abranches has taken the spot rendered vacant by the exit of the famed striker Sunil Chhetri.

The striking prowess of the Kolkata teams was in full view in the Federation Cup as East Bengal and Mohun Bagan sailed through the early stages to square up in the final. One of the oldest football rivalries in the world, all of 85 years, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan were clashing for the 295 {+t} {+h} time. The title victory took East Bengal's win-loss record to 110-84.

East Bengal boasted a refurbished attack built around its new acquisitions, Tolgay Ozbey (Australia), Orji Penn (Nigeria) and the young Robin Singh from the Tata Football Academy. Mohun Bagan relied on its tested players, veteran Brazilian Jose Barreto and Nigerian Edeh Chidi. They were joined by the newcomer Subair Muritala Ali.

Trevor Morgan…the man behind East Bengal's success. “I will not rest till we win the I-League,” says the team's new coach.-PTI

East Bengal got the best out of its combination, running up an all-win record in the 10 matches it played in the season. Though Ozbey missed a penalty each in the semifinal and the final, he was the pick of the East Bengal players, scoring four of his team's eight goals in the tournament.

East Bengal's new coach Trevor Morgan, the man responsible for the team's enviable record, appears to be succeeding with his mantra, “keep it simple”.

His persistence with direct football and the winning instinct he has instilled in his players definitely seemed to help, as East Bengal defeated sides such as Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, Bangalore, Air India, Mumbai, and Pune FC in the group league stage before bending back the challenge of Churchill Brothers in the semifinal.

Mohun Bagan, on the other hand, made a relatively scrappy progress (it was held to a goalless draw by Mumbai FC). The team, however, turned around well, trouncing a strong Salgaocar SC 6-1 before downing Dempo 6-4 via the tie-breaker. Despite having three quality foreigners in Ranty Martins, Roberto Mendes Silva and Ogba Kalu, Dempo continued to be bothered by the early season tentativeness.

Morgan was happy that his team won the title. The British-born Australian coach could not have dreamt of a more perfect start to his assignment in India. “But we are still not the best team in the country and I will not rest till we win the I-League,” he said. The people of Kolkata, after all, are still waiting for their first I-League crown since East Bengal last won the National Football League in 2004.

THE RESULTS

Final: East Bengal 1 (Reisangmei Vashum 53) bt Mohun Bagan 0.

Semifinals: East Bengal 1 (Tolgay Ozbey 10) bt Churchill Brothers 0; Mohun Bagan 6 (1) (Edeh Chidi 66) bt Dempo SC 4 (1) (Ranti Martins 2) via the tie-breaker.