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 November 23, 2002 | 1715 IST

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East Bengal hold edge against Mahindra United

Former champions East Bengal will have an edge when they take on Mahindra United in their second match of the National Football League at Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata on Sunday.

Beside success in the gruelling IFA Super League last season, the victory in their inaugural NFL match against Tollygunge a few days ago has also boosted the morale of the Red and Yellow brigade to a great extent.

East Bengal coach and former international Subhas Bhowmick, who is confident of another good show by his boys, said, "My boys are in good nick. If they can produce the form they displayed against Tollygunge, there is no reason why we won't get full points tomorrow. We also have the home advantage here."

At the same time Bhowmick also paid due respect to their opponents, saying: "But we are taking the match all seriously. Mahindra is also a very good team, at least on paper. Many of their players have played in the IFA Super League and are conversant with our style. They can turn tables any time. So we would be preparing our strategy accordingly."

Both teams have so far earned three points each. But Mahindra have played a match more than the hosts. While East Bengal beat Tollygunge 2-0 in their first and only NFL match they played so far, Mahindra, after beating HAL 1-0 in Mumbai, lost to Tollygunge Agragami, another Kolkata outfit 2-3 in the last match.

The advantage for East Bengal is that unlike Mahindra their foreign recruits Suleh Musah, Douglas and Mike Okoro are in good form. This apart, Deepak Mondal in defence, Sasthi Duley in midfield and sprightly Malsawntluanga are also in fine nick at the moment.

However, Brazilian striker Gilmar, the latest recruit of the home side, would not be able to play in this match as his international clearence is yet to reach the IFA office.

Mahindra coach Karel Stromsik, who also played as goalkeeper for Czechekoslovakia during World Cup 1982, is dissapointed with the performance of his defenders, who allowed as many as three goals against Tollygune a couple of days back.

He said, "It was because of poor defence that we lost the tie against Tollygunge. Besides our upfront was also sluggish on that day. We have to imrpove our performance in both these areas."

Commenting on tomorrow's match, Stromsik said it is definitely a tough match, especially with a vociferous home crowd cheering East Bengal.

"But my players are now acclamatised with the local conditions and have the capability to produce a much better performnace. I'm all hopeful that they would be able to rise to the occasion and turn tables this time."

But for Mahindra, who have spent a huge amount to build up their team this season, much would depend on how the quartet of back Debjit Ghosh, medio James Singh and forwards R C Prakash and R P Singh perform. Things would be easier for the visitors if these players could live up to expectations.

Complete Coverage: 7th National Football League 2002-03