ISL: Football fever in Kolkata as Mohun Bagan Super Giant aim for ‘double’

A 60,000-strong crowd expected to converge for final against Mumbai City FC

Dimitrios Petratos, the Australian warhead for Mohun Bagan Super Giant. (photo: ISL)
Dimitrios Petratos, the Australian warhead for Mohun Bagan Super Giant. (photo: ISL)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

Come Saturday evening (4 May), it will be football fever for a change which will take over Kolkata. The IPL bandwagon has moved away from the city for a week and the action will shift to the cavernous Salt Lake Stadium for the Indian Super League (ISL) final between Mohun Bagan Super Giant and Mumbai City FC.

If there is something that has remained unchanged about the sporting landscape in the City of Joy, it’s the unadulterated fanfare for the time-tested brands Mohun Bagan and East Bengal – while the next edition of ISL will see a return of the ‘Big Three’ with Mohammedan Sporting qualifying for the elite league for the first time. It would indeed have been icing on the cake to have the two Kolkata giants lining up in the final, but East Bengal have failed to make their mark in their journey in the ISL so far and finished a lowly ninth this time.

Mohun Bagan, who reappointed the battle-scarred Spanish coach Antonio Lopez Habas midway in the season after a brief slump, are in line to become only the second outfit after Mumbai City FC to achieve the ISL double of the League Shield and the play-offs trophy.  The Kolkata giants, bankrolled by the Sanjeev Goenka Group, had beaten Mumbai City FC 2-1 on 15 April to win the League Shield while a victory in the play-offs on Saturday will help them cap off a domestic treble season – having won the Durand Cup earlier.

The big prize on display
The big prize on display
(photo: ISL)

In a crowded media conference at a city hotel on Friday, the 66-year-old Habas tried to laugh off any talk of pressure as only a win in the play-offs final can earn them a ticket to represent India in the AFC Champions League. Asked if they are harbouring any thought of revenge as the same opponents had deprived them in the 2020-21 final played behind closed doors, Habas said with a smile: ‘’Revenge and all is in the movies - where there are mafias and all.’’ Will he be happy if the match, a knockout affair, ended within regulation 90 minutes? ‘’As a coach, I should expect to wrap it up by the half,’’ came the answer. 

Subhasish Bose, the defender-captain, urged their supporters to turn up in huge numbers. ‘’We’ve a trophy in front of us to win, we’ve got all the players needed not just them but also lakhs of Mariners who have got our backs,’’ he said.

 The past year-and-a-half has seen Mohun Bagan bank on their Australian forward Dimitrios Petratos to provide leadership to their attack with vision and scoring abilities. He is the highest goalscorer for the team in the ISL at the moment with 22 goals from two seasons – 10 of them coming this season.  In 2023, he was the joint top scorer alongside Diego Mauricio and Cleiton Silva with 12 goals each.

The challenge for the city-based team will not be easy as there is often little to choose between the two heavyweights – who have now established an enduring rivalry in ISL. The crowd support of around 60,000 fans, however, can make a difference when the match kicks off at 7 pm tomorrow.

Rahul Bheke, one of Mumbai City FC’s dependable footballers, was excited ahead of the clash. ‘’Being a former East Bengal footballer, it is always thrilling to play at the Salt Lake Stadium in front of such a huge crowd. Now I feel more excited playing against Mohun Bagan Super Giants.”

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