August 23, 2019 7:33:15 pm
Heavyweights Mohun Bagan will be overwhelming favourites to clinch a record 17th title in the 129th Durand Cup football tournament when they face a resurgent Gokulam Kerala FC at the Saltlake Stadium here on Saturday.
The Mariners last won the Asia’s oldest tournament way back in 2000, defeating Mahindra United 2-1 by a golden goal after extra time, and they would look to end their prolong wait, spanning close to two decades.
This time too their journey has been tough as the Kibu Vicuna-coached side overcame a gritty Real Kashmir 3-1 in the extra time to make their first final since 2009.
Gokulam Kerala too had to sweat it out in the other semifinal to get past a 10-man East Bengal 3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 stalemate in the extra time.
History will also beckon the Kerala outfit as it has been 22 years since a club from the state won the third oldest tournament of the world.
FC Kochin were the previous and the only Kerala club that won the trophy before.
But come Saturday, the local giants will start as favourites while the Kerala side will have to deal with the hostile conditions.
Vicuna, however, disagreed that his side would start as favourites.
“It will be an open match. I don’t think we are favourites. Both teams have same possibility to win. It is 50-50. Both teams are equally good and played tough matches in the semifinals,” Vicuna said.
A title in his first tournament after joining Mohun Bagan will be special for Vicuna who has brought in a Spanish flavour to the side.
“It is very special to play a final, that means we have been playing well. Every tournament is difficult. We played four matches and won all. It is going to be special of course as it is a very old tournament,” he said.
The home side will be depending on star striker Salva Chamorro, who has scored three goals in the competition.
But Mohun Bagan have to win the battle of defence with the opponent’s side boasting two star forwards in Marcus Joseph and Henry Kisekka, who played for the Mariners last season.
Kisekka, however, said he does not want to prove a point against his former side.
“I am not here to prove to anyone. I am focusing on the game and want to come out victorious. Football is not about emotion but it is about opportunity,” the Ugandan said.
The home side’s biggest threat will be the opponent captain and Trinidadian forward Joseph — the leading goal scorer of the tournament with nine goals, including two hat-tricks.
“I am proud to lead the club. It would be a great gift to people of Kerala, if were able to achieve it,” Marcus said.
Gokulam Kerala have been at their resurgent best, winning all the league matches in a dominant manner while scrapping past East Bengal, which won the prestigious tournament 16 times, in penalty shootout en route the final.
Kerala coach Fernando Valera’s strategy has been to deploy three defenders, relying on speedy wing-backs to set up the attacks.
Mohammed Rashid is manning the midfield with Joseph, who usually starts as an attacking midfielder.
“It will be a battle of nerves, that is what I feel. We had taken the game against East Bengal with responsibility and competitiveness as we have done for every match. Now, we don’t want to lose our focus in the final,” Valera said.
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