The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda, Goa will be the focus of attention on Friday when East Bengal and ATK Mohun Bagan go head-to-head in a mouthwatering Kolkata Derby of Indian Super League (ISL) 2020-21 .
The Kolkata Derby, fiercely competed for 100 years, remains the primma donna of Indian football. Ever since its first encounter in the Cooch Behar Cup in 1921, a match between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan has seen an outpouring of passion on and off the pitch.
This is the second time the teams will face each other in the ISL. Although Mohun Bagan have been rechristened ATK Mohun Bagan after their merger with former ISL champions ATK, there will be no dearth of competitive flavour.
ATK Mohun Bagan had won 2-0 in the ISL’s maiden Kolkata Derby in November last year. They will want to continue that momentum as ATKMB are enjoying a good run in ISL 2020-21,
Antonio Lopez Habas’ ATKMB are in top gear. The Mariners, on a four-match winning streak, have pipped **Mumbai City FC to the top of the ISL points table.
But no coach in the world will take things for granted in a match where players are driven by passion and history.
Even if ATK Mohun Bagan’s points tally (36) is more than double that of East Bengal’s (17), Habas is wisely cautious.
“The derby is different,” Antonio Lopez Habas said. “The attitude (of players), the level (of pressure) is different from other matches because you can change the season with one victory. It’s a dangerous match for us.”
Unlike ATKMB, East Bengal have had a torrid time in their debut ISL season. A poor start that saw them go seven matches without a win has undone all the plans that Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler had for his first season in Indian football.
Though the Red and Gold Brigade managed three wins from there on, it’s hardly been enough. East Bengal are out of the play-offs race and will play for nothing but pride on Friday.
And with head coach Robbie Fowler set to miss the tie to a suspension, problems are in plenty for East Bengal. But the team was trying to look beyond it.
“We’ve improved and you can see the players enjoying their game,” East Bengal assistant coach Tony Grant said.
“This derby has got a lot of history and memories. We know how much the derby means to the people. The first derby was a bit unfair on us but now it’s a bit of an even playing field. Hopefully, we can make our fans proud.”
The match in Goa will be played in an empty stadium due to COVID protocols. All attention will therefore be on the live coverage with TRPs expected to hit the roof.