The stage is set for the year’s biggest face-off in Indian domestic football as fierce rivals Mohun Bagan Super Giants and East Bengal FC lock horns in the grand finale of the Durand Cup here on Sunday.
It will be a battle of nerves and emotions between the two giants at the Salt Lake Stadium, as fans of both teams get ready to paint the stadium in green and maroon and red and gold.
The clash would be a repeat of the 2004 Durand Cup final, which East Bengal won 2-1.
The Red and Gold brigade has won the tournament on 16 occasions, sharing the record with the Mariners.
While East Bengal last won the tournament in 2004, the last title that it had won was back in 2018, the IFA Shield, which is an U-19 event now.
As for its performance in the tournament this year, it has played five matches and stayed unbeaten, winning four and drawing one.
While it drew against Bangladesh Army 2-2 in the group stage, it beat Mohun Bagan (1-0) and Punjab FC (1-0) before getting the better of Gokulam Kerala (2-1) in the quarterfinal and getting past NorthEast United 5-3 on penalties in the semifinal after the scores read 2-2 in regulation time.
Ahead of the final, although coach Carles Cuadrat was happy with his side’s winning streak lately, he was worried by the margin of victories.
“We can see that most games have been won by narrow margins. On some instances, it has been a penalty that opens the door for the victory.
“A lot of times, it has been that they (East Bengal) have conceded a goal. So yeah, it will be a great football match, and we will try to use our weapons to get the victory for sure,” Cuadrat said.
Mohun Bagan’s last Durand Cup title win came way back in 2000, and they must be desperate to end a 23-year-long wait.
Mohun Bagan being the reigning Indian Super League champions makes them a slight favourite, but East Bengal has been on a glorious run lately, and it will be tough to get past them.
The Mariners finished second in Group A, below their rivals, including a couple of wins from the three matches. Besides the loss to EBFC, they beat the Bangladesh Army 5-0 and Punjab FC 2-0.
MBSG will have revenge on their mind heading into the final, but coach Juan Ferrando is looking at it from a different perspective.
“No (payback). This is a pre-season tournament for us. It’s important to check different players in different positions and check some details about our system. My job is to prepare the plan, help the players and try to win the trophy,” he had said after the semifinal victory.