Qualification, the goal
It is the teams from Kolkata that have enjoyed a lot of success in the Durand Cup, one of India’s premier and oldest knock-out competition for clubs, but two teams from Delhi will be looking to make their mark in the tournament as well.
Delhi United, which is in its third year of running, will be looking to better their record in the tournament, where despite doing well in the qualifiers, they failed to make the main draw. But their mission of at least joining the major teams doesn’t look a far cry anymore, with Delhi United making full use of the transfer window. There have been several additions during the off-season which will make mattes interesting when they take on Indian Navy in their first match, a knock-out fixture of the qualifying stage.
But the side is not overawed by any means. “We have been champions in the Delhi league. We have given good performances for the last two years in the Delhi circuit but this time we want to rub shoulders with India’s best. I don’t say that we have a clear chance, but we can qualify for the main draw because we have players who have shown that they can deliver at the right time,” said Delhi United chief BS Mehra.
Winning the senior division league organised by the DSA may be a motivational factor for the Delhi side, but it won’t mean they will go in against Indian Navy as the favourites. There are two reasons; one is the fact that Delhi United haven’t played against the side previously and hence might approach the match with caution. The second is that it may not be all that easy to break down their rivals, who are known for their pressing style of play. “They are regulars and we play only seasonal football. All services teams press hard so we will have to match them in order to be at par. But we are confident because we have wins against Assam Rifles in the past,” added coach of Delhi United Lal Bahadur.
Delhi United are confident, though, that if they can upset Indian Navy, they will have a smooth passage into the main league. While Mehra said he was not very willing to disclose his match strategy before the match, he said, while speaking to Sportline, that against Indian Navy, Delhi United will go for a 4-1-4-1 formation, just to get familiar against the opponents. Once the game play is understood, they might revert to the more traditional 4-4-2 field positioning. “One major reason why it is left to the match day is that you never know how the day is going to progress. We decide minutes before the meeting,” he said. The coach also said predicting the result of the match or the tournament would be a difficult proposition. “It will be immature to promise a good show right now because you don’t know how well the other teams have prepared. So we want to take one team at a time,” explained Lal Bahadur.
While Delhi United look pretty much settled in terms of composition and strategy, Garhwal Heroes, the other Delhi side might well be struggling. Where one team gained during the transfer window, Garhwal Heroes stood on the losing side. Going into the Durand won’t be easy for the side as four of their players have quit the club for other options. “The loss is heavy but the team has to keep playing. We have recently signed one former Air India player who has played in the big leagues before and we are pinning hopes on him. But qualifying for the knockouts is a huge boost and we are hoping that we do well,” said Magan Singh Patwal, the secretary of Garhwal Heroes.