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KOLKATA: I-League champion Churchill Brothers finds itself in a bit of a bind as it will be without prolific striker Okolie Odafa ahead of its IFA Shield semifinal against Air India on Tuesday.
The Nigerian striker, who was highest scorer in the I-League, misses the crucial match having received a booking each in the two matches in the group league stage.
Mohun Bagan plays local rival Chirag United SC in the other semifinal the next day.
Churchill’s Brazilian coach Carlos Pereira, who previously coached Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, is familiar with the conditions here and is hoping that his boys would play to their reputation and get the better of the airmen.
While reaching the title round of the 114th edition of the tournament is definitely a big motive, the two sides in the opening semifinal would also be eager for a win especially because the match will inaugurate the newly laid artificial turf at the Salt Lake Stadium.
“Odafa’s absence is a factor but it is not that big as to alter the team’s fortunes,” said Pereira after Churchill Brothers’ practice session on the new turf. Jaison Vales would be replacing Odafa.
Odafa’s absence puts additional responsibility on Durga Boro, the team’s new Assamese striker, who will be spearheading the team’s attack.
Respecting his opponent’s reputation and status, Air India coach Bimal Ghosh said his boys would not ‘go down without a fight’. Ghosh said Odafa’s absence would give his team a psychological edge and his boys would be looking to make the most of it.
The start to the new season has not been too bright for Churchill Brothers, which piped local challenger Mohammedan Sporting on a better goal difference to move into the last-four stage.
Air India has been the only side among the four teams, which did not have to depend on statistics to progress to the semifinals. Ghosh hoped that this factor would favour his team again in the knockout stage.
After making a bright beginning with a 4-0 win against local rival George Telegraph, Mohun Bagan was just able to hold off an aggressive Mahindra United, the defending titlist, 1-1 to finalise a knockout berth on a better goal difference.
Mohun Bagan’s Moroccan coach Karim Bencherifa said his team has attained the first target and would now prefer to put the league phase behind it and take a fresh stance in the semifinals.
United SC coach Subrata Bhattacharya, who is high on confidence having convincingly beaten the 27-time champion East Bengal to ensure its qualification, said he would be fielding the same side hoping to conquer the next big team of the city.
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