Hero I-League may no longer be India’s premier football division, but there is no doubting where Indian football’s biggest match of the year still takes place. The Kolkata derby has been the headline act for Indian football fans for generations and this Sunday’s clash between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan promises to be no different.
Colloquially known as the ‘Boro Match’ or the big game, Sunday’s derby will be the latest chapter in one of the greatest rivalries in football. On the list of FIFA’s classic derbies, the Kolkata derby has become synonymous with a few things – sold out stadiums, gung-ho football and an electrifying atmosphere. A unique rivalry ingrained in the fabric of everyone from the city, points and pride will be up for stake.
Neither team will want to end up on the losing side in the derby, particularly East Bengal, who have the better overall head-to-head record in this fixture and are in dire need of a victory. The Red and Yellow Brigade haven’t had the best of starts to the ongoing season and have won two, drawn two and lost two of their opening six fixtures. Their last encounter saw them go down against Gokulam Kerala at home.
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The Mariners, on the other hand, are on top of the league standings and will be looking to add another I-League title to their trophy cabinet, which boasts more accolades than East Bengal.
On form, Mohun Bagan are favourites to emerge victorious and add to their points tally at the summit of the league. However, since form almost always goes out of the window when matches of this nature take place, it’s safe to assume that the game will be a tight affair with its fair share of controversy and drama.
If anything, this can serve as the perfect game for East Bengal to kickstart their season. They will go into the match with confidence having beaten Mohun Bagan in both the encounters against them last season. The two Kolkata giants, however, could not be separated in their last clash in the Calcutta Premier Division, which ended in a 0-0 stalemate.
Both fans and the players alike will be hoping for a better spectacle on Sunday as thousands prepare to throng the stadium. Furthermore, a 0-0 looks highly unlikely given the personnel on the pitch from both teams. Leading scorers in the league heading into the latest round of games, Mohun Bagan will be hoping Francisco Javier Gonzalez – the league’s top-scorer with five strikes – rises to the occasion along with young forward Subha Ghosh, who’s been one of the finds of the season so far and has already netted three times.
Gonzalez and Ghosh will be looking for Spaniard Joseba Beitia as well as Trinidad and Tobago’s Daneil Cyrus to provide them with the service required for them to find the net. Beitia and Cyrus have two assists each this season and will mostly definitely be eager to add to that tally. East Bengal, meanwhile, will expect Marcos Jimenez to shoulder the burden up top having found the back of the net thrice so far. The Spanish frontman, though, will require more support from his teammates than he has in the recent past if East Bengal are seeking a positive result.
That said, perhaps the Red and Yellow Brigade’s biggest area of concern will be their defence, which has let in eight goals in six games and failed to keep a clean sheet in any of those matches. East Bengal’s head coach Alejandro Menéndez and their players thus have their task cut out heading into the contest as slight underdogs on paper. With that in mind, it’s important to note that very few of these derbies have gone as per script, making Sunday’s clash difficult to call in keeping with the age-old traditions of this classic fixture that’s stood the test of time.