East Bengal legend Alvito D’Cunha wants his teammates to take inspiration from India’s surprise 3-2 win over Kuwait in an international friendly in 2004 ahead of their AFC Cup semi-final first leg against defending champions Kuwait SC on Tuesday.
Kuwait SC are the overwhelming favourites and have an immaculate record (played: 5, won: 4, drawn: 1) against Indian teams while East Bengal have a horrendous record against West Asian club sides with two wins, two draws and 18 defeats in 22 matches.
Alvito admits it’s a daunting task but recalls the friendly nine years ago when even his friends and relatives living in Kuwait didn’t give the Indian team, coached by Stephen Constantine, any chance.
“We are the underdogs, no question about it. In truth we have nothing to lose and all the pressure is on Kuwait SC. But it is not mission impossible because there are days when the underdogs triumphs as well. I still remember playing that game against Kuwait. Although it was an international friendly we played very well and defeated a quality team in their own backyard and that too despite the absence of key players like Bhaichung (Bhutia).
“I remember before the game no one gave us a chance. I have a lot of friends and relatives living in Kuwait but even they were laughing at us and asking Indians play football? But after the final whistle, they were all stunned. Of course, they cheered us during the game but didn’t expect us to win. We can certainly take inspiration from that performance and result,” he told Sportskeeda in an exclusive chat.
Like Alvito mentioned, lot of Indians living in Kuwait are expected to attend the first leg and cheer for East Bengal. Kuwait SC have so far had an average attendance of only 700 in their home AFC Cup matches so there is a possibility of East Bengal having more support in the first leg despite being the away side.
“My friends and relatives have always attended the matches when I have been to Kuwait for club or country. But not just them, I expect lot of Indians who live there to come and cheer for us. This is not only about East Bengal’s pride, but India as well. So we expect good support even in Kuwait and that will make us a feel a lot better,” Alvito said.
The 35-year-old was part of the East Bengal team that registered their only away win over West Asian opposition back in 2008, when they defeated Jordan’s Al Wehdat 2-0 with Alvito scoring a beauty. The former Indian international reckons that the 2008 result shows that anything is possible in sport but warned that the semi-final will be decided over two legs so even if East Bengal can get a favourable result in Kuwait it will only be job half done.
“In any sport whether it is a team sport or individual we see upsets on a regular basis. I remember winning in Jordan against a quality side like Wehdat. Sometimes things go your way in a match and sometimes it’s not your day. After winning away in Jordan, we lost the home game 4-2. Maybe in our minds we were thinking, the home match will be easy as we won the away fixture. That is something we will have to avoid in this semi-final because both legs will be equally important,” he opined.
Alvito admitted that the absence of Ryuji Sueoka in both the legs of the semi-final will be a huge loss. The Japanese player’s hamstring injury in the quarter-final second leg against Semen Padang will now rule him out for up to six weeks and thus leave a big void in the East Bengal team. But Alvito is still optimistic of the team putting up a big fight.
“Sueoka’s absence is a huge loss. He is a class player and would have made a big difference. It’s no secret that the foreign players are indispensable for any I-League team so when we could have had all four foreigners available, we will only have three now and that is a setback. But we must look ahead and aim for a fighting display in Kuwait. It will be a very tough game due to the difference in standards of Kuwaiti and Indian football but we are ready for the challenge,” he concluded.