KOLKATA: Extraordinary situations warrant extraordinary measures. Mohun Bagan coach Karim Bencherifa must be wondering about this adage as his team faces the most unique situation in the history of National League/I-League.
The All India Football Federation having exonerated the 124-year-old club from serving three- seasons of banishment from the premier tournament, the proficient Moroccan coach now has the task of hauling up the team from scratch to ensure their survival in the tournament. With 15 more matches left, Mohun Bagan need to pick up enough points to remain among the 12 best teams to escape relegation.
The return from exile began with a loss (against Salgaocar) in the previous match and now Mohun Bagan (on zero points from 11 matches) faces the very team – United Sikkim FC – they have to surmount first to avoid being demoted to second division.
The two opponents – meeting at the Salt Lake Stadium on Thursday (January 24) – will have the same objective, that of escaping the shadows of relegation. The I-League debutante United Sikkim is currently placed 13th with 10 points from just one win, seven draws and eight losses.
“It will be a tough battle. Mohun Bagan are a reputed and good side with quality players,” said the visiting side coach Nathan Hall. “But the absence of Odafa Okolie will be an advantage for us. We are also confident and hopeful of making a match of it,” he added.
United Sikkim are likely to miss five players – Anwar Ali, Safar Sardar, Michael Rodriguez, Sandesh Jinghan and Budhiram Tudu – who are nursing injuries. This will pose some selection problems for Hall. “The team is young and agile but they lack experience which is bit of a worry against big sides like Mohun Bagan,” Hall said.
“Our biggest concern is that we do not have any points and do not have many matches at disposal,” said Mohun Bagan coach Bencherifa looking for the desperate measures to avoid the relegation fears. “Odafa is an important player but now we have to think without him. My team is focusing on picking up point and hope we will start doing it tomorrow,” he added.
“Saving relegation is not an impossible task. My players are focused on achieving that task. I am a professional coach and give more importance to my job and am not really bothered about criticism,” Bencherifa said reacting to the recent criticism after Bgana’s loss in the last match.
Apart from Odafa’s absence due to suspension, Mohun Bagan also have some injury worries with the likes of Rakesh Masih, Stanley Okoroigwe and Jewel Raja getting uncertain before the match.
The kick-off is at 2.00pm.