East Bengal coach Marcos Falopa has suffered a blow ahead of his side’s AFC Cup quarter-final second leg against Indonesia’s Semen Padang on Tuesday as midfielder Cavin Lobo has been ruled out with a knee injury.
With Harmanjot Singh Khabra still not fully fit, Falopa could have banked on young Subodh Kumar to replace Lobo, but has instead included striker Baljit Singh Sahni in the final 18-man squad.
Although not a natural central midfielder, Lobo started alongside midfield general Mehtab Hossain in a 4-4-2 system in the first leg but only had an impact when Falopa switched to a 4-1-4-1. Lobo assisted Ryuji Sueoka’s goal in the 70th minute which gave East Bengal a narrow first leg advantage.
Mehtab is the only recognised central midfielder in the travelling squad and it remains to be seen which wide midfielder Falopa picks in central midfield with Lalrindika Ralte, Reisangmi Vashum being some of the options. The Brazilian coach could also use the 4-1-4-1 which would allow Sueoka to play centrally, like he did after coming on in the second half.
Maybe Falopa could also use a diamond in midfield like Trevor Morgan which could get the best out of Sueoka and also allow both Edeh Chidi and James Moga to start.
On a positive note, experienced goalkeeper Abhijit Mondal is back in the squad after recovering from a groin injury and has replaced Abhra Mondal from the first leg squad. But the former Dempo custodian faces tough competition from young Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who had a good first leg, for a starting berth.
The other change from the first leg squad is the inclusion of defender Gurwinder Singh in place of India international Raju Gaikwad.
In a bid to maintain the positivity within the squad, Falopa presented gifts to the key performers of the first leg on Wednesday with Sueoka getting a special Brazil jersey from the 1994 World Cup.
East Bengal were unbeaten away from home in the group stage with two draws and a win and if they can avoid defeat in Indonesia on Tuesday, then they will become the first Indian club after Dempo to reach the AFC Cup semi-finals.
The squad will leave for Indonesia on Friday evening.
Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Abhijit Mondal
Defenders: Naoba Singh, Uga Okpara, Arnab Mondal, Gurwinder Singh, Saumik Dey, Robert Lalthalmuana
Midfielders: R.Vashum, Mehtab Hossein (Captain), Ryuji Sueoka, Lalrindika Ralte, Alvito D’Cunha, S.Malsawmtluanga
Forwards: Edeh Chidi, James Moga, Joaquim Abranches, Baljit Sahni