Whether it was the Dempo-Mohun Bagan rivalry in the early 2000’s that the Goans always had an upper hand on, or Bruno Coutinho’s Golden goal in the 1997 Federation Cup final that silenced a packed Salt Lake stadium, or more recently, a fracas filled FC Goa-Atletico de Kolkata match in the first season of the ISL, where Robert pires and Antonio Habas came to blows, they all originated from traditional rivalry and fierce battles that Goa endured against Bengal in the Santosh Trophy for the last 70 years.
This rivalry between Indian football’s two traditional powerhouses, takes centre stage again tomorrow as Goa battle Bengal in the Santosh Trophy at the GMC Stadium in Bambolim, and even though the Santosh Trophy has lost its charm over the years, this is one match that always raises the pressure, becomes nail biting and brings the Santosh Trophy alive. Bengal are in a rich vein of form having won their last two matches and currently are on top of Group A, while Goa on the other hand looked promising in their lone game against Meghalaya on Sunday where the scripted a 2-1 win. Bengal coach, Mridul Bannerjee, who knows Goan conditions well, having been with Vasco Sports Club would know the importance of this match. Bengal haven’t had the roller coaster of starts to their campaign but two grinding 1-0 wins against Chandigarh and Services see them sit comfortably at top spot. A win against Goa would almost guarantee them a spot in the semi-finals of a tournament they have won a record times. Mumtaz Akhtar would once again be Mridul Bannerjee’s key man in midfield while Moirangthem Basanta Singh would look to get his name on the score sheet for the second successive game.
For Goa coach Mateus Costa, picking his starting eleven wouldn’t be much of a headache. Liston Colaco who has been a revelation this season would lead the attack with Latesh Mandrekar. Workhorse midfielder Cajetan Fernandes would anchor the midfield, while Peter Carvalho and Melvin Lobo would once again pair up at the back for Goa. The presence of skipper Francis Fernandes on the wings would add a bit of flair to the Goan midfield.
Meanwhile GFA President Elvis Gomes has appealed to the fans to come out in large numbers to support the home side. “Goa needs the backing of the fans in this crucial game. Goa and Bengal have always witnessed a fierce rivalry over the years, and with Bengal already having won two matches, they look strong contenders for the tournament. Howevere Goa has the advantage of playing in front of its home fans and I hope our fans come out in large numbers and back Goa to the hilt in this crucial game”.