Sportskeeda continues the Federation Cup build-up by analysing Group C.
Fixtures (Venue: Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi)
January 15: Salgaocar vs Shillong Lajong; Mohun Bagan vs Mumbai FC
January 18: Mumbai vs Salgaocar; Shillong Lajong vs Mohun Bagan
January 21: Shillong Lajong vs Mumbai FC; Salgaocar vs Mohun Bagan
After being the early pacesetters in the I-League title race, Salgaocar entered a poor run of form and come into the Federation Cup low on confidence. Besides a run of seven games without a win, Salgaocar were also penalised for fielding unregistered players in a couple of fixtures. Derrick Pereira has his work cut out in regaining the team’s belief and the only way that will happen is if the team performs well in Kerala. The Goan club have failed to replace Ivorian Claude Gnakpa and thus will be playing with just three foreigners in this tournament. Being 12 points off the I-League leaders now means that Salgaocar’s best hope of silverware is the Federation Cup.
Key player: Darryl Duffy – The Scotsman made an incredible start in Indian football by scoring six goals in his first five games but the former Swansea striker’s formed dipped after that and as a result his club also suffered. Duffy would be aiming to make a fresh start in this tournament and rediscover his scoring touch.
It has been a difficult I-League campaign so far for the Mariners and their misery was compounded by the CFL triumph of arch-rivals East Bengal. There is turmoil off the pitch also but more importantly the club hasn’t tasted any major success since May 2010 while their fierce rivals have won seven trophies in that period. Karim Bencherifa is determined to end the trophy drought in either this tournament or the IFA Shield and the Moroccan has a good record in India’s FA Cup, winning it with two different clubs previously including Mohun Bagan’s last triumph in 2008. The derby win on Saturday finally gave the green-and-maroon faithful something to cheer about and it could prove to be a turning point in their season.
Key player: Katsumi Yusa –Odafa Okolie will be under pressure to do the scoring but that will only happen if Yusa’s creative powers are in full force. The Japanese almost knocked out East Bengal in the 2012 Federation Cup while playing for ONGC and has become the new darling of the Mohun Bagan fans following his derby winner.
Being fourth and just seven points off the top after 16 rounds, Lajong have every right to believe that they are in the title race especially in a season where every fixture is unpredictable. The Shillong club’s modest squad has been overachieving with Trinidad and Tobago’s 2006 World Cupper Cornell Glen being the talisman with eight goals in 11 I-League appearances. It would be interesting to see whether they can show the same level of consistency in the Federation Cup as well. Coach Thangboi Singto has rightly played down their chances to take the pressure off his young squad but the absence of Brazilian striker Uilliams Bomfin due to injury will be a big blow.
Key player: Minchol Son – The North Korean hasn’t got as many MVP accolades as he did last season but has once again been a key figure for Lajong. Son’s performances at the heart of the defence have been instrumental in their impressive I-League campaign and much of the same will be needed if Lajong want to match their 2009 runners-up finish.
Like Rangdajied, Mumbai’s form improved following the five loan additions from IMG-Reliance and those experienced players will have to perform well in this tournament also if they want to reach the semis for the very first time in their history. But Khalid Jamil’s side has been weakened since their last I-League game as Afghanistan national team captain Zohib Islam Amiri moved to Dempo while Afghan striker Sandjar Ahmadi was released despite not being given too many opportunities. Hence Mumbai will have only two foreigners for this tournament but their squad does boast of a few former winners and they will be looking to build on their five-match unbeaten run in the I-League.
Key player: Yusif Yakubu – The evergreen Ghanaian revived Mumbai’s season after rejoining them in December and has once again become their talisman. Yakubu has won the tournament previously with both Mahindra United and East Bengal and he will be aiming to inspire Mumbai past the group stage at least.
What to expect
There are no favourites in this group based on the personnel of each side but Mohun Bagan are the only ones under pressure. The Mariners have been eliminated from the group stage for the last two seasons and thus they will be desperate for a winning start against Mumbai. Salgaocar have previous Federation Cup winners in their ranks but they must find their belief back. Lajong will play without any fear and their position in the I-League table will certainly give them a lot of confidence. This group could remain undecided until the very last minute of the final round of games with all sorts of permutations coming into the equation.