I-League: Bengaluru, East Bengal battle to stay in contention (Preview)

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Bengaluru, April 9 (IANS) Bengaluru FC and East Bengal will battle to keep their respective title challenges on track when they meet in a crucial I-League tie a the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here on Sunday.

East Bengal (24 points) are in the running for the title along with Bengaluru FC (26 points) along with defending champions Mohun Bagan.

Both East Bengal and Bengaluru have three games left with the Kolkata outfit needing to win all their remaining matches in order to win the title.

Sunday’s clash is being labelled as a virtual semi-final, but Bengaluru coach Ashley Westwood asserted that while the stakes are high, his team will be under no pressure to chase a win.

“It is not vital to win to be quite honest. Looking at the table, we need to win two and draw one game. We are two points in front. We can’t afford to lose. We will go out and try to win. We are going to try and back it up with a good performance,” he told the media here on Saturday.

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Bengaluru defender Curtis Osano echoed his coach’s sentiments.

“There’s no pressure. It is a normal game of football. We are going to go out and play a good game of football. It is not really do-or-die,” the Kenyan said.

A big miss for the hosts will be defender John Johnson, who is serving a one-game suspension after picking up his fourth yellow card of the season in the 1-1 draw against DSK Shivajians on Wednesday. It will be interesting to see who Westwood chooses to pair Curtis Osano with in central defence with Ranjam Salam Singh and Keegan Pereira being the options.

“Johnson’s an influential, aggressive player. He is strong in the air. But we have played without him before. We will give someone else a chance. We always rotate, we always chop and change. He (Johnson) was on three yellows for a while and we knew it was coming. It is not a problem. We will be fine,” Westwood said.

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East Bengal, meanwhile, will have an absentee in the same position after Arnab Mondal was handed a two-match suspension after being found guilty of using ‘aggressive and abusive words’ against Mohun Bagan striker Cornell Glen during the Kolkata derby a week ago.

The verdict was announced by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) on Saturday morning. Mondal apart, East Bengal left-back Robert Lalthlamuana will also miss the game after failing to recover from an injury picked up in the draw against Mumbai FC.

The Kanteerava Stadium does not hold too many happy memories for East Bengal after they were handed a 3-0 drubbing by Bengaluru when they came here last season. The Kolkata side would be keen to erase the blot. Bengaluru followed up that win with another one this season, beating East Bengal 1-0 at the Barasat Stadium in West Bengal.

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