In what is a clash that had earned its name as an Indian football classic, Bengaluru FC will take on Mohun Bagan in the second semifinal of the inaugural Super Cup, at the Kalinga Stadium, in Bhubaneshwar, on Tuesday. As the month-long tournament reaches its business end in Odisha, East Bengal secured their place in the grand finale, having claimed a 1-0 win over FC Goa in the first semifinal held at the same venue on Monday.
While battles between the two sides have often been engrossing and even, Bengaluru had the final say when they beat Bagan in extra time to win the Federation Cup last season. The game was the last time the teams squared off against each other, with the Blues making the switch over to compete in the Indian Super League. However, Roca felt it would be foolish to take anything from that game into Tuesday’s semifinal.
“So much has changed for Bagan since the time we last played them. From what I have seen of them this season, they appear to be a far more balanced side and if we feel we had it tough in the final of the Federation Cup, Friday will be tougher,” said the Blues’ Spanish manager.
The club from Kolkata had an overhaul of players and a change at the helm after the end of a barren last season. Sankarlal Chakraborty was appointed manager as Bagan brought in experienced foreigners like former Bengaluru midfielder Cameron Watson, Lebanese playmaker Akram Moghrabi, Yuta Kinowaki and Aser Dipanda among others.
Cameroonian striker Dipanda will be one to watch out for, having ended the last two I-League seasons as top scorer; first with Shillong Lajong and then with Bagan. The Blues’ defensive pairing of John Johnson and Juanan Gonzalez will have their work cut out against Bagan’s number 9.
The side from Kolkata were in the running for the I-League title till the final day before they were beaten to the finish by Minerva Punjab. Meanwhile Bengaluru had their own ‘last day’ woes, going down 3-2 to Chennaiyin FC in the ISL final after thoroughly dominating the league phase of the competition. And Roca believes that both sides missing out on trophies will play its part in giving the fixture an added edge.
“To say we are disappointed would be putting it very mildly and it makes us want to give the Super Cup more than our best effort. I’m sure Bagan feel the same way too and the game will be a good reflection of the hunger both teams have in wanting to win a trophy.”
While Bengaluru made it through to the semi-final with wins over I-League sides Gokulam Kerala FC (2-1) and NEROCA FC (3-1), Bagan have had a relatively tougher path to the last-four. Dipanda scored both goals in the Mariners’ 2-1 win over Churchill Brothers before Chakraborty’s side claimed a 3-1 win over Shillong Lajong in their quarterfinal.
Roca said he would weigh his options at the right-back position after confirming that Rahul Bheke hadn’t yet recovered from an injury that saw the defender hobble off early in the first half against Neroca FC. “It’s unfortunate that Rahul will miss a game that everyone wants to be part of, but with players like (Harmanjot) Khabra and Nishu (Kumar), I have that position on the pitch covered well,” said Roca.
Kick-off at the Kalinga Stadium is at 4 pm and will be telecast on the Star Sports Network, HotStar and JioTV.