Coming off a fantastic performance in the semifinals, Mohammedan Sporting Club is the favourite to win the 126th Durand Cup when it meets Oil and Natural Gas Corporation in the final at the Ambedkar Stadium on Thursday.
The Kolkata side last won the trophy in 1940, when it defeated Royal Warwickshire Regiment in its maiden title clash. However, since then, Sporting has played three finals and lost all of them, its last appearance in 1992 resulting in a 1-0 defeat to JCT.
Though coach Masood Abdul Aziz Bola’s side seems to be peaking at the right time, he needs to ensure his players are ready to counter ONGC’s defensive steel.
The Mumbai-based team will, perhaps, be more driven than usual as it will aim to make a point to the All India Football Federation. After being thrown out of the I-League for failing to meet the new club licensing criteria, ONGC finds itself with a massive opportunity to establish its credentials against a newly-promoted I-League club.
However, nerves could affect the public enterprise team as this is the first time it is in the final of the Durand Cup.
ONGC will be without the services of centre-back Karan Atwal after he was sent off in the previous round. Team manager Bibek Bhowmik says the defender’s absence is a serious blow to his team’s chances.
If ONGC retains a five-man defence, left wing-back Lalchhuanawma should replace Atwal, like he did in the semifinals. Bimal Minj could come into the side to take the former’s position.
Bola will also have to make a major decision if Jerry Zirsanga recovers from the injury he suffered in the previous match. Zirsanga’s replacement Israil Gurung provided two assists after coming on as an 18th-minute substitute.
Ahead of the final, though, Bola remained hopeful of having the full squad at his disposal.
Sporting is expected to field a dynamic 4-2-3-1 formation.