Venue: Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata
Kickoff: Tuesday, October 22 2013, 16:00 IST (LIVE on Star Sports)
First Leg Result: Kuwait SC 4-2 East Bengal
East Bengal’s requirement: 2-0 or 3-1 win to progress on away goals or triumph by three goals or more. A 4-2 win will take the second leg to extra time with away goals not applicable. The match goes to a penalty shootout if it still remains level on aggregate after extra time.
East Bengal have already made India proud with their semi-final run, which includes a nine-match unbeaten streak and 100 percent home record. But now the red-and-gold brigade have the chance to create history and become the first Indian club to reach the final of any Asian club competition.
11 years ago, no one gave East Bengal a chance to beat Thailand’s BEC Tero Sasana, at that time continent’s second-best club side, in the Asean Cup final. But Subhash Bhowmick’s team achieved the impossible and now Brazilian coach Marcos Falopa and his players are on the verge of something even more special.
However, it is an immensely daunting task as East Bengal not only have to win but also must triumph by at least two clear goals without conceding more than once.
The fact that their opponents Kuwait SC have lost only twice by two goals or more in their last 82 matches shows the enormity of East Bengal’s challenge. On paper, the Kolkata giants have no chance but they still must believe and take heart from their fightback in the first leg in Kuwait.
Falopa passed his first test as East Bengal coach by beating Indonesian champions Semen Padang over two legs in the quarter-finals but the performances were far from convincing and the loopholes in his tactics has been exposed in the first leg defeat to Kuwait SC and the loss against Dempo in the I-League.
Strangely though, the Brazilian has consistently got his substitutions right with players coming off the bench and scoring in four of their last five matches. But the equation in this tie demands consistency from the very first whistle so Falopa can’t afford to depend on his inspired substitutions to overcome the two-goal deficit.
The defeat to Dempo will serve as a good reminder for the 64-year-old of the problems his team could face against Kuwait SC if they play a flat 4-4-2 and that concentration levels will have to be top-notch for the entire game because the defending Asian champions will punish any small mistake.
The East Bengal faithful still dearly miss Trevor Morgan but Falopa has the opportunity to become the new darling of the club’s enormous fanbase.
The big hope for East Bengal is their 12th man. Although the passion turns into hooliganism at times as Dempo’s Samir Naik found out last week, Falopa’s side would certainly relish playing in front of more than 60,000 supporters and it should take their performance to another level.
East Bengal would also be aiming to make the most of their familiarity with Salt Lake Stadium’s artificial turf especially considering that Kuwait SC like most top teams around the world prefer playing on natural surfaces.
However the most important thing for the 93-year-old club will be their performance. They do need to score two at least but will also have to defend well and thus going all out from the very first whistle isn’t exactly necessary.
East Bengal will have to show maturity and pick their moments of going forward in numbers and above all be clinical. Falopa must also remind the players that all the pressure will be on favourites Kuwait SC so they must enjoy the occasion and play without fear just like the final half hour of the first leg.
On paper, it looks ‘Mission Impossible’ but strange things do happen in the beautiful game.