Federation Cup final Preview : Mohun Bagan - Aizawl FC
With the 2015/16 season set to draw to a close, the final fixture leaves us hoping that this tie of David versus Goliath delivers a spectacle to behold...
The 2016 Federation Cup final is nearly upon us and in a match that will be played at the Indira Gandhi stadium in Guwahati on Saturday evening, Mohun Bagan and Aizawl FC will face each other knowing full well that a win will help them script a new chapter in their respective club annals.
The match-up between the Mariners and the Reds from the Northeast is widely seen as one between two teams who were at polar opposites in the I-League table, but have certainly been the best in the domestic cup over the course of the last two weeks.
The Maroon and Green brigade are the most successful side in the Federation Cup, winning it 13 times in the competition's illustrious 39-year history. They head into this tie with futher onus on their shoulders, knowing full well that they have to redeem themselves for surrendering their I-League title to Bengaluru FC just three weeks ago.
Widely recognized as India's best squad in the domestic tier, head coach Sanjoy Sen will be aware of satiating his fans' need by bringing home a record 14th title.
The advantage for Bagan is that they have a fully fit squad. Sen is expected to field his best XI and Jahar Das, the coach of Aizawl FC, will be well aware of the multi-faceted threats they pose.
In attack, Jeje Lalpehklua, scorer of a hat-trick in the first semi-final leg against Shillong Lajong, is certain to start in a role alongside or slightly behind Cornell Glen. Sony Norde, fit again, will start from the left wing after recapturing some of his stellar form in the tie against Lajong. Katsumi Yusa will start on the right.
Pronay Halder will be key as he shuttles from box to box in midfield.
In defence, Luciano Sobrosa and Kinshuk Debnath will ensue their partnership in the centre, whilst Dhanachandra Singh is expected to begin in the left-back slot. The right-back position will be a headache for Sen, with Prabir Das and Pritam Kotal both vying for a place. Debjit Majumder will start between the sticks as the club's number one.
Despit having his best players at his disposal and plenty of experience in the competition, the Bagan coach refused to accept that his side are firm favourites in the final.
“It will be foolish to say Mohun Bagan are the favourites,” Sen stated.
“Aizawl FC have proved themselves in this competition and they deserve to be in the final. We respect our opponents. It will be a tough match for us,” he added.
Saturday's final will be a matter of pride for Das, who has endured relegation with his young Aizawl team.
This would be Aizawl's second major trophy on the domestic stage, as they were promoted from the lower strata, the I-League second divsion, just last year ago by winning it. A Federation Cup triumph, will however, go down in history as one of the most memorable ventures from a northeast side on the national stage.
However, a major thorn in the side for Aizawl will be the suspension of midfield lynchpin, David Lalrinmuana, also their captain, as he was sent off in their last fixture.
Das is expected to field the same side that played in their last outing minus his skipper. Joel Sunday and Alfred Jaryan, both so complimentary of each other, will begin one more time in the 2015/16 calendar for the northeastern side. Vanlalremdika, one of Das' youngest attackers, should start from the right as well.
Yuta Kinowaki will man the midfield and there will be extra impetus on him in the absence of his regular partner.
It could be a defensive 4-5-1 or a 5-4-1 formation for the away side in this fixture, with Jaryan dropping back whenever possible to provide solidity to the midfield. In defence, Ricky Lalrimuana and Lalruatthara are expected to man central defence, while Lalchawnkia, who scored a goal versus Sporting, is expected to start at right-back.
Poirem Sorei has had a boost in form lately and is likely to stay in goal.
“We have defeated Mohun Bagan before and we can defeat them again. We are all united for the cause and we are all hoping that the result sways in our favour,” Aizawl coach Jahar Das expressed.
“We will be playing as if it will be the last day on Earth,” he added.
Bagan and Aizawl share a similar head-to-head record, with a win each for either side in the league. Their cup form has been similar heading into the final as well, with both teams unbeaten over four matches, home and away. However, in just three fixtures, Bagan have scored 12 goals, whilst the Mizo team have just over that tally with seven.
The 2015/16 season of India bids farewell with a David versus Goliath fixture. Both teams have the hopes of their fans riding on their shoulders, from the bustling hub of Kolkata to the withering heights in Mizoram.
Kick-off is at 1900 IST, on Saturday.