East Bengal FC head coach Carles Cuadrat highlighted his team's determination to keep their playoff hopes alive in their final Indian Super League (ISL) league clash against Punjab FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi on Wednesday.

Currently occupying seventh place in the standings with 24 points from 21 games, East Bengal FC finds themselves three points behind Chennaiyin FC, who recently climbed to sixth place following a thrilling victory over NorthEast United FC. Cuadrat's side need to secure a win in their final game against Punjab FC and hope that Chennaiyin FC lose in their last league fixture against FC Goa. If this scenario unfolds, East Bengal FC will secure their playoff qualification based on a superior head-to-head record against Chennaiyin FC.

Despite their playoff aspirations, East Bengal FC faces a formidable opponent in Punjab FC, who were also in contention for a playoff spot before suffering a recent defeat to Mohun Bagan Super Giant. Positioned 11th in the standings, Punjab FC share the same points as Jamshedpur FC, and any points gained against East Bengal FC would see them climb up the rankings.

East Bengal FC's recent back-to-back wins against Kerala Blasters FC and Bengaluru FC have bolstered their chances of playoff qualification. With only one game remaining, they remain hopeful of securing a playoff spot, a feat yet to be achieved since their introduction in the ISL during the 2020-21 season.

Cuadrat expressed full confidence in his players' commitment to leaving no stone unturned in their pursuit of finishing in the top six. "Let's hope that we can fight for the three points because we have that very big motivation to be in the playoffs. I'm sure that the players are going to give an extra effort to try to be there," he said during the pre-match press conference.

He continued, "Football a lot of times is a mental game and also a physical game, and we have been with that kind of calendar. When you are in a dynamic where you are struggling with the results, playing with top teams, it's difficult to get something. We know our calendar with Kerala Blasters FC, and with the Bengaluru FC match there were options to drop points, luckily for us, we got 100% in these two games. And now we have to try to beat Punjab FC. There are positive things and negative things."

This has been East Bengal FC's most successful season in the ISL in terms of points secured in a single season. Notably, in addition to their playoff aspirations, they reached the finals of both the Durand Cup and the Kalinga Super Cup, emerging victorious in the latter. The head coach was asked to elaborate on whether he thinks that he has achieved the personal target he has set for himself, at the beginning of the season.

He responded: "It's a very interesting question. I'm very proud to explain. I have to say that when I took a challenge, I knew how difficult it was. So now, at the end of the season, I can say that the things that we were thinking about, a lot of them have been happening. I mean, I can see a kind of rebirth of the club after a lot of seasonal struggles. But of course, there is a long way to go to arrive where the club has been at, most part of it's history. We know that we have been a top, top club" he answered. 

In the reverse fixture held in Kolkata back in December, East Bengal FC and Punjab FC played out a goalless draw. Despite Punjab FC currently occupying a position four spots below East Bengal FC in the table, they have managed to secure five wins this season, falling just one short of East Bengal FC's tally. Notably, four out of these five victories were achieved in 2024, underscoring their resurgence after encountering initial challenges in their debut ISL season. Cuadrat was aware about the progress Punjab FC have made since the start of the season and the threat posed by their attack. 
"They are doing a very good set of form for the season and we all can see that they got the formula with the three foreigner forwards (Luka Majcen, Jordan Gil and Madih Talal) and they are scoring goals. They are creating a lot of problems for the opponents. So it's going to be a very, very difficult game. We know that. Yes, when you play with no pressure, maybe you can try even more risky offensive situations. So it will be difficult for us. It's a team that you can see work like the coach (Staikos Vergetis) has been doing all the season. It's very difficult to come from the I-league to the ISL. So they were struggling at the start of the season, but you can see how the players have been improved under the big coach. I think that they're doing a very good ending of the season," he said.
Lucky to get a chance to play for such a big club: Mahitosh Roy
Midfielder Mahitosh Roy accompanied Cuadrat during the pre-match press ahead of their match against Punjab FC. The 25-year-old shared his experience of being part of the first team at East Bengal FC and hopes to make his ISL debut against the Shers. 
"I have been practicing with the senior team for long. I am lucky to get a chance to play for such a big club on a big platform like ISL. Thanks to the head coach and other coaches and support staff. This match is very important to us. I will try to give my best tomorrow (on Wednesday). Our focus is on this match only. We are thinking about nothing else than the match," he stated.