In red-hot form, East Bengal face a tough opponent in a plucky NorthEast United FC (NEUFC) side, probably playing the biggest game of their nine-year existence, in the semifinal of the 132nd Durand Cup at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan (VYBK) turf on Tuesday.
The Highlanders are playing their best tournament football in a long while with an attractive side which is a mix of youth and experience. The team has gelled very well under new Spanish coach Juan Pedro Benali and if they travel and settle well coming down from Guwahati, they will surely give the home side a run for their money.
Coach Benali is aware of the enormity of the occasion stating in pre-game comments, “This semifinal isn’t just another match. We’re playing in Kolkata against the home team, in front of their fans. And East Bengal are a team with quality players in all positions and on the bench too.”
“We’re here to represent our region and fight for our people. Our fans believe in us and we want to make them proud. Together, as one, we’ll give it our all and make history,” he said on the eve of the match.
The Highlanders do lead the head-to-head against the century-old club but to beat the resurgent 16-time Durand champions in their den in front of their home fans, they will certainly need to create history.
And it is not as if Emami East Bengal (EEB) have played an infallible tournament in the Durand Cup this year. NEUFC fans will take heart from the fact that EB while scoring six have conceded three at the back, while they have scored 10, while letting in the same number.
But EEB seem to be getting the job done when it matters most as was evident in their clinical victory over former champions Gokulam in the quarter-finals. And their Spanish coach Carles Cuadrat has not put a foot wrong since coming on this season.
As pragmatic and respectful of opponents as ever, Cuadrat said in his comments a day ahead of the big game, “We are in the semifinals after playing out an intense quarter-final against Gokulam. NorthEast United have been unbeaten in this tournament so far. They have a good mix of youth and experience, which makes them a very competitive opponent. It’s definitely going to be a tough match, but our players know their roles well. As a unit, we are working in the right direction.”