NorthEast United vs East Bengal: Preview and Prediction
The 2023 Durand Cup saga is now progressing towards the endgame where we are now left with just four surviving contenders for the prestigious title. NorthEast United making its maiden semi-final appearance will take on the competition’s second-most decorated side East Bengal to grab the ticket to the final.
An intense battle between ISL’s two Eastern counterparts in the first semifinal of the tournament’s 132nd edition will be hosted by Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan venue of Kolkata on Tuesday.
The Spanish coach Juan Pedro Benali is eying to bag the maiden club honor in his very first assignment as the NEUFC gaffer. Despite finishing second in Group D behind Goa, the Highlanders still managed to claim the knockout qualification ticket after having the most points (7) among all group runner-ups. The Guwahati-based outfit which has never made it through the group stages of this tournament, is now just two steps away from the glory.
Meanwhile, East Bengal has enjoyed great success in this historic competition and holds the honor of joint-most Durand Cup titles (16) along with their arch-rivals Mohun Bagan. However, the Red and Gold Brigade hasn’t graced the champions podium since 2004 and is suffering from a 19-year title drought. After struggling against the Bangladesh Army side in the opening fixture to defeat two former champions on their way to the semifinals, the Torchbearers are surely having an eventful journey.
The Torchbearers emerged victorious in the season’s first Kolkata Derby, topped Group A and barged into the knockout stages with high spirits. They were summoned by the champions of the 2019 edition, Gokulam Kerala who knocked them out of the semifinal round in their trophy-winning campaign. An epic clash on a rainy evening at the VYBK Arena ensued and the home team proceeded to win the battle by 2-1 and claimed the semifinal ticket.
On the other hand, NorthEast United was drafted with the armed forces side Indian Army in the round of 8 after missing out on the top position of Group D by the goal difference. Highlander faced tough competition from the Group F winners who were participating for the first time since 2016 but the ISL outfit eventually emerged victorious on a final scoreline of 1-0. It was the 51st-minute strike from the Manipuri winger Konsam Phalguni Singh which erupted the home crowd at Guwahati and took them into the penultimate stages.
East Bengal and NorthEast United have faced each other on six occasions and the head-to-head record of those battles favors the Highlanders by 3-1 while two face-offs could not produce any results. However, all three victories came in the first three chapters of this rivalry in the 2020-21 season as the Guwahati-based side has gone winless in the rest of the encounters.
The most recent chapter of this rivalry was a memorable one and turned out to be a goal-scoring fest at Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan. It was the returning fixture of the 2022-23 ISL season where the two bottom-placed sides were indulged in a thrilling 3-3 saga. When the Red and Gold Brigade was gradually heading towards a triumph, a late equalizer from the super-sub Imran Khan stunned the local crowd and forced them to a draw.
Benali fielded a second-string lineup in the last group game and came up with five changes in his starting XI for the quarter-final clash and is unlikely to make any further changes in the winning combination.
All the returning players played a pivotal role in the triumph especially, the skipper Gaurav Bora and goal-scorer Phalguni Singh. The Highlanders’ top-scorer of this tournament, Parthib Gogoi will be unavailable for this forthcoming fixture as the 20-year-old Assamese attacking sensation has joined the national side to contest for the U-23 Asian Cup.
Despite winning the quarter-final bout, coach Carles Cuadrat received a lot of backlash from EB Ultras on his decision to keep Cleiton Silva and Mandar Rao Desai excluded from the starting XI.
The East Bengal attackers have failed to live up to the high expectations of fans after netting only six goals from four games hence, the inclusion of the Brazilian forward Silva may boost the firepower of the offensive unit. Another expected change we may see is the ISL’s second-most capped player Dessai playing at left-back ahead of Nishu Kumar who has been unimpressive in the given chances so far.
Predicted Starting XIs
NorthEast United (4-2-3-1): Mirshad Michu; Dinesh Singh, Gaurav Bora ©, Miguel Zabaco, Tondonba Singh; Romain Philppoteaux, Gani Ahmmed Nigam; Redeem Tlang, Phalguni Singh, Rochharzela; Ibson Melo
East Bengal (4-4-2): Prabhsukhan Singh Gill; Harmanjot Khabra ©, Jordan Elsey, Lalchungnunga, Mandar Rao Dessai; Nandhakumar Sekar, Souvik Chakrabarti, Saul Crespo, Naorem Mahesh Singh; Cleiton Silva, Javier Siverio
It is going to be a tough night for the attackers gracing the battlefield of the first semi-final as defense has been the stronger suit of both of these combatants. There are high chances that we may also get to see the first penalty shootout of the 132nd edition of the Durand Cup taking place considering their identical strengths.
However, the Red and Gold Brigade hold brighter chances to advance into finals owing to home advantage and proving their contention for the title against tougher opponents.