East Bengal made a thumping statement and showcased everything which is right about the team when Marcos Falopa’s lads won their opening game in the I-league. Locking horns with Shillong Lajong in the latter’s own backyard is never a cakewalk. East Bengal comfortably garnered a victory making it look very easy. As the club stands on the brink of creating history in the continental tournament [AFC Cup], the players, management and the staff know that the Kolkata club needs to play out of their skin. As the fans eagerly wait to storm the Yuba Bharati Krirangan on the 22nd and others keeping a check on the local TV listings, TheHardTackle throws the spotlight on five key battles on the pitch, which will surely decide which way this tie may swing.
Arnab Mondal – Issam Jemmah
East Bengal was trailing by three goals in the first half courtesy a brace from Tunisian international Issam Jemmah. The lanky African stuck to his tremendous reputation of scoring a goal in every match for the Kuwaiti side, and delivered the goods. Out of the two centre backs, Arnab Mondal was seen struggling with the physicality and nippiness of the Tunisian. Issam is already the leading the goal scoring chart in the AFC Cup with fifteen goals. In the first leg, Jemmah had 7 shots on target during the game and all of them were after getting the better of or after losing Arnab Mondal. Arnab Mondal is very quick at reading and halting the aerial balls, but it is no rocket science that the Bengali defender needs to bring his ‘A’ game in order to spice things up in Kolkata in a week’s time, or else the Tunisian hit man will put the tie to bed very quickly.
Dika Ralte – Al Sanea
After a lacklustre performance in the first half in the Kuwait city, Falopa changed the formation with attack minded tactics in hope to savour something from the tie. Ralte was bought on to lighten things up and the Indian international did not disappoint. He treaded the left flank; outrunning and outwitting the Kuwait SC right back Al Sanea on many occasions to orchestrate vital moves in the second half. Ralte was involved in both the goals with virtually saw East Bengal claw back into the tie. Firstly, he whipped a wicked corner which was met by towering Uga Okpara and then Ralte himself got on the score sheet in style. Al Sanea was seen chasing shadows when Ralte outran him and then cut inside to unleash a bullet shot past the diving Al Kanderi. The duel between these two players is one to watch out for, as Ralte is expected to start this time at the YBK.
Mehtab – Hammami
Clearly East Bengal needs its most consistent player in top form against a mid-field which can close the game out with their supreme skills and ball spreading ability. Countering him in the middle of the park would be another Tunisian international in the Kuwaiti squad- Chadi Hammami. The latter stamped his authority like the rest of team in the in the first half in Kuwait, when he assisted a goal and got on the scoring sheet as well. Mehtab Hossain on the other hand is a master of tracking and closing out threatening passes, keeping a check on his opponents. Mehtab would be a key figure in the midfield and with both these gentlemen gloating about their immense presence and never ending zeal for the ball, the crowd at YBK will be surely treated with some high quality midfield marshalling.
James Moga-Ali Baba
The home side on 22nd is expected to start with their two “go-to” foreigners upfront- South Sudanese James Moga and Nigerian Chidi Edeh. Albiet Chidi did not see much of the ball in the first leg, Moga was owned by the central defenders so much so that Moga was cut out as a frustrated figure on the pitch. Especially his battle with Ali Baba will be one to keep an eye on. Hussain Ali Baba is a Baharaini international with massive international exposure under his belt. [71 International matches]. His composure at the back and coverage was something which was quite imminent. Having all the attributes of a robust stopper, Baba would look to counter the mistakes his defense made at home in the second half. Moga on the other hand brings the physicality aspect and his goal scoring prowess in the air to the plate. Moga’s attitude could make a vast difference to how East Bengal fare in this match, whereas Kuwait SC faithful would be hoping for a repeat performance from the Bahrain lad.
Gurpreet Sandhu – Al Kanderi
The East Bengal custodian has been under the scanner after his howlers in the last two games which have resulted in goals for the opposition teams. Marcos Falopa has shown faith in the tall lad so far, but another mistake at the YBK could prove to be one too many for the Lal-Holud brigade. His counterpart from the visiting team hasn’t been tested by the East Bengal attack, but his performance at YBK will be very critical. Purists would debate that he could have done better with the second goal as he was beaten on the near post. Gurpreet will have a mammoth task of keeping the ever impressive Kuwaiti attacking line-up at bay. The Punjabi lad has come out and spoken openly about how his team was behind him , even after the blunder in Indonesia. Gurpreet would be concentrating on gathering the crosses and set pieces cleanly, as that has been the main reason behind both the spills. The Brigadiers have only conceded ten goals in the competition , whereas their hosts have seen twelve under the same category. there is very little to choose between both of them and as both the custodians gear up for the big game, it will be very interesting to see which one of them makes them self counted when the team needs them the most.