Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi
23rd January 2014
Karim Bencherifa goes up against his old club as group A winners Churchill Brothers take on group C winners Mohun Bagan in the first semi-final of Federation Cup in Kochi. Both teams have been in good form in group stages and have displayed attacking instincts in their matches. The Red Machines won all there three group matches while have Bagan progressed from a tough group which comprised of Lajong, Salgaocar and Mumbai FC.
Team News And Tactical Brief
Despite languishing at the bottom of the I-League, Churchill Brothers were the first of the four teams to qualify for the semi-finals. The three weeks break between the I-League and Federation Cup has helped Subhash Bhowmick to stabilize the team and the team now looks stable after the changes in the coaching staff in the middle of the season.
Lalit Thapa is set to continue under the bar while former Indian international Arindam Bhattacharya will start on the bench after he made some childish errors in the I-League. The back-four will see Sanjay Balmuchu and Dharmaraj Ravanan in the heart of the defense. Denzil Franco and Raju Yumnam as expected will start on the right and left side of the defense and the experienced full-backs will have the responsibility of overlapping and helping the midfielders. The Red Machines have conceded in all there three games they have played, a fact which must be worrying coach Marinao Dias.
Egyptian midfielder Abdelhameed Shabana, signed by Churchill Brothers towards the end of the last year has led the revival for the Red Machines with his creative play in the middle of the park. He has scored two goals so far including a sumptuous free-kick against Eagles FC which proved to be the winner. Besides scoring, Shabana has notched up a couple of assists as well. Lenny Rodrigues, who scored the second goal against Pune FC, has re-discovered his touch after a string of rather flat displays and he will be entrusted with the role of breaking the opposition attacks and winning the balls for the attacking Shabana. The highly rated Alesh Sawant was not released for the Lusofonia Games and will start on the right flank with Saran Singh on the left. Jaison Vales and Micky Fernandes are possible substitute options for coach Marino Dias.
Balwant Singh has been Churchill’ s best player this season and the Punjabi striker will lead his team’s attack. Balwant has looked comfortable with the ball and has impressed with his movements off the ball as well. He has scored eight goals in I-League and Federation Cup this season with only Sunil Chhetri scoring more among Indians and has made a strong case for a national team call-up. Trinidad and Tobago striker Anthony Wolfe was slow in the first couple of matches and displayed poor first touches but scored a brace against Pune FC and also notched up an assist in the game. The World Cupper has peaked at the right moment for his club and will look to make a mark in the semi-final. Bineesh Balan had a stellar 2012/13 season and the Keralite is expected to play a part in the game as a second half substitute.
Expected Starting XI: Lalit Thapa; Denzil Franco, Sanjay Balmuchu, Dharmaraj Ravanan, Raju Yumnam; Alesh Sawant, Lenny Rodrigues, Abdelhameed Shabana, Saran Singh; Balwant Singh, Anthony Wolfe.
Mohun Bagan coach Karim Bencherifa had stated that his side were more suited to do well in cup tournaments rather than a I-League format and the results in the group stages have gone on to prove that. Karim Bencherifa and his boys know that this is their best opportunity to end their trophy drought after they lost the Kolkata Football League title to rivals East Bengal.
Bagan has one of the meanest defense in the country at the moment and the defense has conceded just one goal in the three group matches. Shilton Paul looks all set to continue under the bar for the Mariners and he has been in impressive form throughout the season. Pritam Kotal and Souvik Ghosh have really flourished under Bencherifa and will occupy the right and left full back spots with a license to overlap. Nigerian defender Eche and Aiborlang Khongjee complete the four man back-line and the duo will be entrusted with the task of keeping an in-form pairing of Balwant and Wolfe under check.
Katsumi Yusa has been one of the best performers in the Federation Cup so far and the Japanese has been the pivot of most of his sides ‘ moves. Yusa has linked the midfielders and the strikers well and has come into his own in this tournament showing glimpses of the form he displayed with ONGC last season. Accompanying him in the middle of the park will be experienced midfielder Denson Devadas in the role of a holding midfielder. The outcome of the midfield battle between Devadas-Yusa and Lenny-Shabana could play a big role in deciding the outcome of the match. Bagan have a lot of options of the wings but it is unlikely that Bencherifa will tinker with the winning combination and hence Zakeer Mundampara will start on the right and Pankaj Moula on the opposite flank. The highly skilled Ram Malik and the newly signed Ujjal Howladar, who also scored his debut goal against Shillong Lajong, may be used as second half substitutes.
The addition of Christopher Chizoba and the return of injury of skipper Odafa Okolie has solved the striking woes for the club which was struggling to score goals at the start of the season. Odafa in particular has looked to contribute to the team’ s cause and has dropped back to help the midfield. Both Christopher and Odafa have scored three goals each in the tournament and will look to add to their tally against a weakened Churchill defense. Christopher has made an impressive transition from local Kolkata league to the I-League and though he has missed some easy chances, his combination with Odafa has rejuvenated the team. Local boy CS Sabeeth is an alternative option that Bencherifa can fall upon if needed
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Shilton Paul, Pritam Kotal, Eche, Aibor, Shouvik Ghosh; Zakeer Mundampara, Denson Devadas, Katsumi Yusa, Pankaj Moula; Christopher Chizoba, Odafa Okolie
Players To Watch Out For
Balwant Singh (Churchill Brothers)
Sukhwinder Singh have got his tactics and foreign player selection wrong but he did bring in Balwant Singh to Churchill Brothers and the 26 year old has been revelation this season. Balwant has displayed immense work rate and has beaten defenders with his pace and his strength. With Wim Koevermans expected to be in the stadium, Balwant would be looking to add to his goal tally and this makes him the player to watch out for.
Katsumi Yusa (Mohun Bagan)
The Japanese has easily been Bagan’ s best player in the Federation Cup so far notching up a goal and numerous assists in the group stages. Katsumi was not at his best at the start of the season since he was employed on the left flank by Bencherifa but he has rediscovered his touch after he was shifted to a more central role. Katsumi posses a lethal shot and the goan giants will have to look out for his long range shots.
Churchill Brothers 1-2 Mohun Bagan
The first semi-final between two evenly matched teams promises to be an exiciting affair but Bagan’ s defense gives them an advantage over their rivals. In Bencherifa they have one of the most shrewd coaches in the country and the presence of all four foreign players as compared to two in Churchill also gives them an edge .