Aircraftmen face emotional Dempo

Quest for quality fare may be hampered by shoddy ground

The Sree Kanteerava stadium, which will host the 12th-round match, has seen some big moments but on December 5, 2004, it was the scene of a tragic incident as well, with Dempo striker Christiano Junior dying on the pitch after a collision with Mohun Bagan goalkeeper Subrata Paul in the Federation Cup final.

Powered by Junior’s two goals, Dempo won that final to lift their maiden Federation Cup crown but the loss of the Brazilian reduced that triumph to a mere statistic. Returning to the venue for the first time after that incident, thoughts of Junior would certainly be on Dempo players’ minds on Sunday.

“When I entered the stadium, all those memories came flooding back to my mind,” said Dempo’s coach Armando Colaco. “We haven’t played here after that, it was a terrible day,” added Colaco, who has guided the Goan club to great success over the last few years, including last season’s I-league title.

The defending champions, however, have been going through a rough patch this season. After 11 rounds, they are in sixth place with 16 points, having won four matches, drawn four and lost three. Significantly, they are yet to win a match away from home and against the Aircraftmen, that will be their primary goal.

“We have had injuries and also missed a few players who were on national duty,” said Colaco, explaining their rather mediocre run so far. “Striker Ranty Martins’ poor form also hasn’t helped matters — he has missed four penalties this season.”

The last of those misses came in Dempo’s 11th-round match against Air Indi, which they lost 0-4 to the bottom-placed side in the 14-team league. But with the Indian players returning to the fold, Dempo are in a position to mount a more serious challenge in the coming months that will also include a foray into the Asian Champions League qualfiying rounds.

The return of Mahesh Gawli, Climax Lawrence, Subashish Roychowdhary and Clifford Miranda will certainly make Dempo a formidable opponent for HASC, who themselves are fighting hard to make an impact in the big league.

Placed ninth with eleven points, the Aircraftmen suffered their sixth defeat last week when East Bengal cashed in on a controversial strike to further widen the gap at the top of the table. Playing only their second match at home, HASC should be hoping to make a turnaround. “We did play well against East Bengal and our aim is to play in the same pattern,” said coach Thyagaraj. Yellow cards, however, could be a worry with key men Xavier Vijaykumar and Murali among those on one caution.

“HASC is a good team and they play good football -- they are not the type who will just kick and run. We’ve played some close matches in the past,” said Colaco.

Ground conditions, however, might not help the teams in their quest for good football, even though some work has been been done to improve the turf. A school meet hampered the teams’ preparations on Saturday, with HASC forced to train outside. Till the turf at the Bangalore Football Stadium is ready, it will be tough going for the clubs at Kanteerava.

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