East Bengal pin hopes on home advantage to create history

Kolkata, Oct 21 (IANS) A step away from creating an Indian history, city soccer giants East Bengal are banking on home advantage, as they play for the "country's pride" against holders Kuwait Sports Club in the AFC Cup semi-final here Tuesday.

With the match at the Salt Lake stadium set to draw between 50,000 to 70,000 spectators, the locals are hoping the full-throated shouts of their fans would prove intimidating for their formidable rivals, who have never played on the artificial turf laid in the giant stadium.

Added to the strength of playing on familiar terrain is East Bengal's home record in this edition of the tournament - they have won all their five matches at the Salt Lake stadium.

A place in the final would make East Bengal the toast of the nation, as they would be the country's first club to make it to the title round of the second-rung continental tourney. Goa's Dempo had lost in the semis in 2004.

Having gone down 2-4 in the first leg of the semi final at Kuwait City - where they rallied with gusto to pump in two goals after trailing 0-4 at the breather - East Bengal need a 2-0 or 3-1 win to make it to the finals before their emotion-charged supporters.

A 4-2 victory for the home side would push the game to extra time.

Kuwait SC, boasting of ahost of players doing duty for the country in the World Cup qualifiers, need a draw or limit East Bengal to a 1-0 triumph to reach the final for the fourth time. They have won the cup twice and finished runners up in 2011.

Both sides, however, would miss key players. East Bengal would have to take to the field sans injured midfielders Reisangmi Vashum and Ryuji Sueoka. Kuwait SC would miss injured medio Fahad Al Enezi.

"It is a very important match for us tomorrow. We will play for the pride of not only East Bengal but India as well. My boys have prepared well and are ready to try their best. We are going to fight till the very end," said Brazilian coach Marcos Falopa,

Falopa admitted that Kuwait SC were the superior side, but said underdogs also have their chances in such games. He praised Kuwait SC's lethal Tunisian striker Issam Jemaa, and Brazilian player Rogerinho.

The key players for East Bengal would be South Sudanese striker James Moga, and his upfront partner Edeh Chidi of Nigeria. "Chidi's compatriot Uga Okpara would have to marshall the defence and contain the dangerous Jemaa".

Kuwait SC coach Marin Ion said both teams would be under pressure.

"The pressure is not only on us. We are proud to be the defending champions and know exactly what is required in the second leg after winning 4-2 in the first," said Ion.

"We are not used to playing on artificial turf but some of our international players have a bit of experience. I am confident we will adapt after two days of training on the artificial surface."

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