As far as the points table is concerned, both the Kolkata clubs are not in the contention for a top place finish even though East Bengal is in a much comfortable position. But that doesn’t affect the mindset of the players and the fans ahead of the Kolkata Derby, it never did. Everything is there to be won in Sunday’s clash, but East Bengal has an added incentive if they manage to get past Mohun Bagan when two of the most celebrated clubs go head to head at the majestic Salt Lake Stadium.
Apart from the three points, the red and gold brigade will have the better of their bitter rivals in two consecutive matches in a season for the third time ever and the first time since the 2003-04 National Football League. Technically, they are yet to script a ‘Derby Double’ in the history of the I-League! East Bengal is on the verge of creating history, this may be their best shot, brushing the aside the double defeats last season, especially the 0-2 loss where Dipanda Dicka scored a brace and outplayed them in the return leg of the I-League.
On the other hand, Mohun Bagan has already completed four ‘Derby Doubles’, the first during the 2001-02 National Football League when the team was spearheaded Brazilian Jose Ramirez Barreto while their other three ‘Doubles’ in 2007-08, 2009-10 and the 2017-18 season respectively. The ‘Mariners’ is fresh from a couple of wins against Minerva Punjab FC and NEROCA FC, will be hoping draw inspiration from those performances in the build-up to the high voltage clash.
In the last I-League derby, this season, East Bengal managed to get past Mohun Bagan 3-2 in the thrilling encounter, which was also their first Derby win in any competition in more than two and a half years. Although Mohun Bagan took the lead in the first quarter of the match, East Bengal came back strongly to take a 3-1 lead. Down with 10 men and half an hour to go, Bagan pulled one back and put up a spirited fight, but the red and gold brigade held their nerves and had the last laugh.
It was back in the days when East Bengal was an unmatched power in Indian football along with Mohun Bagan. After a humiliating 5th position finish in the 2001-02 National Football League which was clinched by the arch-rivals, it’s was time for a turnaround. Mastermind Subhash Bhowmick guided them to a National Football League title in the 2002-03 season along with a ‘Derby Double’ delight!
During the first leg, a goal from Subhashish and the second one from Goa-based playmaker Alvito D'Cunha was enough to script a victory over Bagan. In the return leg, Alvito found the target once again, while Nigerian Mike Okoro netted the other, claiming a 2-1 win with Bagan’s Jose Ramirez Barreto scoring one for the oppositions. Later on, 2003 East Bengal became the first Indian club to win a major trophy on foreign soil by winning the ASEAN Club Championship!
The following season, East Bengal managed to recreate a similar record by winning the National Football League for a consecutive time, incidentally their last time too and also winning the ‘Derby Double’ to make it icing on the cake for that season. The red and gold brigade won 2-1 in either leg of the league. Dipankar Roy and Mike Okoro were on the scoresheet in the first leg, while legendary footballer Bhaichung Bhutia and Cristiano Junior scored in the second leg. Ashim Biswas scored for Mohun Bagan in each of those fixtures.
It the current era, East Bengal is now backed by corporate giants QUESS Corp. Limited. Reaching deep into the pockets, the club has invested hugely in the transfer market recruiting top-quality foreign players. Although they suffered an early jolt at the start, Spanish tactician has been managing the team quite well in the past few matches. With Toni Dovale and Jaime Santos Colado strengthening the attacking line than ever before, and players like Johnny Acosta and Borja Fernandez rock solid at the back, East Bengal might well script their first ever I-League ‘Derby Double.’
Meanwhile, Mohun Bagan has also seen a change of hands in management with Khalid Jamil appointed as the head coach after Shankarlal Chakraborty’s resignation from the post. Khalid has maintained a hundred per cent win record at the club by winning the two games under his supervision so far. The former I-League winning coach was at the helm of affairs at East Bengal in the previous season but was not fortunate enough to win the ‘Kolkata Derby’ on both the occasions.
Can he break the ‘Derby’ jinx, or will he suffer yet another defeat and East Bengal walk away with their first ever I-League ‘Derby Double’? Do keep your eyes glued to the Television sets on Sunday evening for the greatest show in Indian football.