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IFA Shield Final special: The ultimate East Bengal and Prayag United Combined XI

East Bengal (EB) and Prayag United (PU) face off in the 117th IFA Shield final tomorrow at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata (Kickoff: 5:30 PM). It will be a repeat of last year’s final which East Bengal won on penalties.

Despite spending heavily this season, Prayag United are yet to win any silverware and the IFA Shield presents them their best opportunity. East Bengal will be looking to retain the trophy and win their 29th title and it would also keep alive their hopes of completing a domestic quadruple this season.

The two sides have met twice already this season with Prayag winning the I-League encounter 1-0 while East Bengal recorded a 2-0 victory when the teams faced each other in the IFA Shield group stage.

Ahead of the final, Sportskeeda picks a combined eleven keeping in mind the AIFF’s rule of fielding only three foreigners while those who are injured are also not considered for selection.

Formation: 4-4-2

Goalkeeper

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (EB) – Although the youngster has made most of the headlines for his heroics in the penalty shootout against Mohun Bagan, Gurpreet’s overall form has been impressive as well. The 21-year-old has kept clean sheets in each of his two AFC Cup appearances and deserves to get the nod not only ahead of Prayag’s current first-choice custodian Sangram Mukherjee, but also Subrata Pal. Gurpreet performed well under immense pressure in the semifinal and now would be aiming to emulate the performance from last year’s IFA Shield final.

Defenders

Deepak Mondal

Right Back: Deepak Mondal (PU) – The Arjuna Awardee hasn’t played for the national team since the 2011 Asian Cup but has actually been one of the most consistent right backs in the last 18 months. Deepak has been revitalised since joining Prayag in the summer of 2011 and the captaincy has only made him raise his game and take more responsibility. He has been there and done that in Indian football but would be eager to lift his first trophy at Prayag United on Wednesday.

Gouramangi Singh

Centre Back: Gouramangi Singh (PU) – Had Arnab Mondal been fit, Gouramangi wouldn’t have made this eleven as the experienced India defender has had a difficult season since joining Prayag from Churchill Brothers. But the Manipuri didn’t do too badly in India’s AFC Challenge Cup 2014 qualifiers and produced a fine composed display in the semifinal win over Deportivo Saprissa ‘B’. Gouramangi won the IFA Shield with Churchill Brothers in 2009 and 2011 and would be determined to win the famous old trophy with Prayag also.

Uga Okpara

Centre Back: Uga Okpara (EB) – The Nigerian centre back has been indispensable to East Bengal ever since his debut for the club three and a half years ago and is by far the best foreign defender in India. East Bengal have the best defensive record in the I-League and much of it is down to the consistency and leadership of Uga, who has been instrumental in their solid start to the AFC Cup also. The 30-year-old would be disappointed by the way East Bengal conceded in the semifinal and thus will be eager for a clean sheet in the final.

Harmanjot Singh Khabra

Left Back: Harmanjot Singh Khabra (EB) – The first choice left backs of both sides – Saumik Dey and Dhananchandra Singh – don’t exude much confidence although the former hasn’t made too many mistakes this season. But we opt for East Bengal’s ‘Mr Versatile’ Harmanjot Singh Khabra to do a job at left back, a position where he has played for the Kolkata club and his previous club Sporting Clube de Goa. Khabra is likely to start at right back on Wednesday but could end up playing in a different position by the end of the match, like in the semifinal when he was pushed to midfield. When you don’t have a quality left back, you can certainly rely on Khabra.

Midfielders

Sanju Pradhan (2nd from left)

Right Midfield: Sanju Pradhan (EB) – Veteran Shylo Malsawmtluanga has done well for Prayag in the I-League while James Singh has also done a decent job in the IFA Shield but form-wise, Sanju Pradhan is the best right midfielder among the two teams. The East Bengal skipper was unfortunate to miss out from the national squad due to injury but that has only pushed him on to perform even better. Sanju was outstanding in the win over Malaysia’s Selangor in the AFC Cup and produced a man-of-the-match performance in the semifinal win over Mohun Bagan. He will be desperate to lift the IFA Shield.

Lalkamal Bhowmick

Central Midfield: Lalkamal Bhowmick (EB) –  In terms of consistency, K Asif has outperformed Lalkamal this season but the former has only just recovered from injury and thus, Lalkamal’s experience and quality will be vital like in the semifinal. Although Tapan Maity has done a great job for Prayag in the IFA Shield so far, it was Lalkamal’s arrival that finally added some cohesion to their midfield in the semifinal against Deportivo Saprissa. On his day, Lalkamal can be a match winner either through goals or assists and he would be looking to have a big influence in the final.

Mehtab Hossain

Central Midfield: Mehtab Hossain (EB) – It hasn’t been his best season individually, but Mehtab remains the best all action central midfielder in the country. Without Mehtab, East Bengal are a different team and that was evident in their scrappy 2-1 win over ONGC in the IFA Shield group stage. Mehtab’s tackles and work ethic is pivotal to East Bengal’s system and he is one big match player that any coach would like to have in his team. If Mehtab is able to dictate play from midfield, East Bengal will certainly retain the IFA Shield.

Lalrindika Ralte

Left Midfield: Lalrindika Ralte (EB) – The Mizoram lad has been outperformed by Prayag’s CK Vineeth this season but Ralte is more likely to start in the final than Vineeth, who has just recovered from injury, and hence we opt for the East Bengal man. In truth, Ralte only lags behind Vineeth in terms of goals but overall, there is virtually nothing to choose between the two. Although one could argue that the East Bengal medio has produced the goods in big matches like the Federation Cup semifinal and final and against quality opposition, as he scored the winner against Malaysia’s Selangor in the AFC Cup.

Forwards

Ranti Martins

Ranti Martins (PU) –  The former Dempo man is favourite to finish as the I-League’s top scorer for the third straight season but hasn’t been at his best in the IFA Shield so far. Ranti was taken off in the semifinal with his replacement Kayne Vincent netting the winner and the Nigerian doesn’t enjoy a good relation with Prayag coach Eelco Schattorie. But Ranti is a big match player and likes to come alive on the big stage, so one can expect him to raise his game in the final. East Bengal fans would also recall Ranti scoring the winner in the I-League meeting between the two sides earlier in the season.

Edeh Chidi

Edeh Chidi (EB) – In terms of recent form, Chidi is certainly the hottest striker among the two sides and he would be aiming for another top performance in the final. Questions were asked about Chidi following a poor spell at Salgaocar and a slow start to his East Bengal career but the Nigerian has been consistent in the second half of the I-League campaign and also netted twice in the group game against Prayag earlier in the IFA Shield. Having lost the final with Mohun Bagan twice in 2009 and 2011, Chidi will be determined to lift the IFA Shield this time.

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