Bhubaneswar: Kolkata giant East Bengal FC take on defending champions Odisha FC in the final of the Kalinga Super Cup, hoping to win their maiden title in the annual football competition introduced in 2018 to replace the Federation Cup in men’s domestic football in India.
In the summit clash at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Sunday, Odisha FC will be hoping to defend the title they first lifted last year by beating ISL club Bengaluru FC in Kozhikode, Kerala.
It is expected to be a needle clash as both teams boast a flawless record of four straight wins en route to the final.
While East Bengal trounced arch-rivals Mohun Bagan Super Giant 3-1 in their last group stage game before bagging a comfortable 2-0 win over Jamshedpur in the semifinal, Odisha passed Group D without a hiccup and edged Mumbai City FC 1-0 in a heated semi-final on Thursday.
For the hosts, nothing will be more special than lifting the Kalinga Super Cup trophy in front of their home crowd. The previous season’s Super Cup may have been the club’s first-ever silverware, but should they defend the throne on home soil at the Kalinga Stadium, it will be a moment of a lifetime.
“Our fans are very important to us. We can feel their support inside the pitch during the match. We are defending the title tomorrow. It will be a difficult game but we’re ready,” said Odisha defender Carlos Delgado, who captained the team to the Super Cup title in Kozhikode last year.
Odisha head coach Sergio Lobera is no stranger to winning the Super Cup, having done so with FC Goa in 2019 at the very same venue. Having taken charge of the Kalinga Warriors at the start of this season, the Spaniard eyes his first trophy with the club.
“We have a big game in front of us. We have the responsibility to keep the trophy here. We are excited about this opportunity and the most important thing is to enjoy this final. It’s a big game for everyone – the players, coaches, staff and supporters,” said Lobera.
Odisha FC are arguably the most in-form team in India at the moment, unbeaten in the last 15 matches across the ISL, AFC Cup and the Kalinga Super Cup, winning 13 of them.
“We have beaten some very good teams like Mohun Bagan SG and Bashundhara Kings in the AFC Cup, and FC Goa and Mumbai City FC in this competition. I’m confident because I trust my players two hundred per cent. They have shown that they are ready to play big games and tomorrow it is one,” Lobera added.
For East Bengal, the final is all about breaking their 12-year trophy drought on the national stage. The 2012 Federation Cup triumph in extra time over Dempo in Siliguri was the last time the Red and Gold Brigade won a national trophy at the senior level.
Carles Cuadrat’s side came agonisingly close to ending that wait for silverware merely four months ago when they went down by a goal to Mohun Bagan SG in the Durand Cup final. Here in Bhubaneswar, they have already dispatched their city rivals in the group stage and standing between them and the title are the home favourites.
“We are feeling very good. We have been fighting for results for a long time. It’s very important for us to be in another final. We couldn’t win the first one (Durand Cup), so we’ll try our best to get the result in this one,” said Cuadrat.
Like Odisha, the Red and Golds are also in fine form, unbeaten in their last nine games. They have also found the cure to their scoring problems, netting 10 goals in four Kalinga Super Cup matches, having scored none in their previous three in the ISL. Brazilian striker Cleiton Silva has scored four of those and is the tournament’s top-scorer at the moment.
“Both teams are in a very good dynamic of results. We have been performing consistently. But it’s the same with Odisha, they have a long, long unbeaten streak. So, unfortunately, one of the teams is going to lose and the dynamic is going to break. It will be a very difficult game for us. But we always say we’re going to win. We are showing that we are scoring goals in every game,” Cuadrat shared.
East Bengal are boosted by the return of Naorem Mahesh Singh and Lalchungnunga from national team duty at the AFC Asian Cup. The duo have already started training with the team. Cuadrat can also rely on insights from former Odisha midfielder Saúl Crespo, who joined East Bengal in the summer.
Looking to win back-to-back Super Cup trophies with different teams, Crespo, who has a goal and an assist in the tournament so far, said, “We know that Odisha is a very good team. I know about their players. But we will do our job in the final and try to win the trophy.”