Delhi United needs a single win to qualify for Durand main draw

At the start of the Durand Cup qualifiers, Delhi United chief BS Mehra’s voice lacked confidence when he was talking about his team’s chances. Understandably so, because the last two times his squad had to see the main draw matches from the fringes. Though Mehra was cautious in his words, he wasn’t short on hope, believing that when his team walks out to take on Indian Navy, they will give a good account of themselves. And his wards didn’t fail him, crossing the initial hurdle 5-4 in the penalty shootouts.

After they beat Indian Navy, Mehra’s hopes multiplied many folds and the confidence from the opening match win motivated his team enough to defeat the Army Green on Monday. While they had to toil hard against Indian Navy, the team outshone Army Green 2-0 in a full display of competitive football.

“In a knockout tournament, the first match is the biggest difficulty. The team is not sure which combination would fit in, if players are fully fit or not and how the opponents are going to play. But thankfully, we pressed harder throughout the match against Indian Navy and that helped us strategise well for the next match as well. Despite the fact that the Army team gave us a tough competition, the way Delhi United performed as a group made the opponents look completely ordinary,” said Mehra.

With two wins from as many matches, Delhi United has one more game to go to confirm their qualification, or for that matter – their exit too. But the dressing room atmosphere and camaraderie gives the appearance that Delhi United is gearing up for the main draw challenge that starts August 23. In their effort last year, the team got knocked out in the second match but this year their side is boosted by some fresh signings and they are eager to wash off the stain of no local team being able to qualify for the Durand Cup.

“We are confident. We are playing well and I am sure there is a positive side to the story from here on,” Mehra added. Mehra is also banking on the experience in his team, which is spearheaded by former Mohun Bagan campaigner Rishi Kapoor in their ranks. He provided them the crucial early lead against Army Green.

The motivating factor for this stellar performance by Delhi United is also that the team is aiming to qualify for the I-League second division. The team is working hard and the results are quite visible. “The transfer season will be very important. We will have to sign players on loan and will figure out how they could be groomed. The Durand Cup will be a huge platform to know the standing of the team,” Mehra pointed.

If Delhi United are a step away from their qualification, Garhwal Heroes are no minnows either. Even without their main players, Heroes have shown that they aren’t out of steam. Garhwal defeated the disciplined Indian Air Force 5-4 in the shootouts, thanks to their goalkeeper who made some important saves during the regulation time. “We would have been up in the start of the match had our Nigerian striker not missed sitters upfront. But certainly we played better that day and looking forward for the next match against Punjab Police,” said club secretary Magan Singh Patwal.