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EB closer to semis berth

New Delhi, Jan. 4: Fourteen-time champions East Bengal and Salgaocar posted convincing wins in the 115th Pepsi Durand Cup football tournament Saturday.

East Bengal routed Air India 4-0 in their opening match in group B with Nigerian striker Mike Okoro scoring twice and Salgaocar cantered to a 2-0 win over Punjab State Electricity Board (PSEB). Air India and PSEB have thus been eliminated.

East Bengal need just a draw in their last match against Madras Engineering Group, Bangalore, Monday to reach the semi-finals.

Following 4-4-2 for the first time this season, East Bengal started tentatively. But they scored thrice in the space of nine minutes to virtually kill the contest. Coach Subhas Bhowmick said he deviated from his favoured 3-5-2 formation because of the absence of a sweeper back, like Dipak Mondal, Suley Musah and M. Suresh.

The Calcutta teamís back-four was hesitant in the beginning and survived a scare in the fourth minute. A long throw was only partially cleared and a quick cross from the left saw Air India striker Trevor Fernandez heading into the side netting from close.

However, stopper backs Arun Malhotra and Subhashish Roy Chowdhury settled down gradually and curbed Air Indiaís breakaway attacks.

Soon after, East Bengal wrested the initiative. In the 16th minute, Chandan Dasí free-kick was headed powerfully by Douglas de Silva but Air India goalkeeper Rajat Guha dived to his left and effected a save.

Junior international S. Malsawmtluanga sparkled with his deft dribbles and close control. He set up the first goal in the 33rd minute, with a fine crossfield pass from the right. Okoro sneaked in behind the defenders and scored with a left-footed flick.

Five minutes later, Chandanís diagonal pass found an unmarked Sasthi Duley on the left edge of the box. The bustling midfielder controlled well and scored with an accurate and low left-footer.

Man-of-the-Match Okoro created the third goal. Wide on the left he curled in a measured cross to an onrushing Malsawmtluanga on the opposite flank. In panic, Air Indiaís left back Osbern DíSouza deflected the ball into his own net.

East Bengal were now on the rampage. Another defensive error put Kaustav Ghosh through but with just the goalkeeper to beat, he shot into Guha. Then, Chandanís stinging right-footer was saved and seconds later Sasthi blasted over the bar.

Early in the second half, East Bengal right back Surya Bikash Chakraborty cleared off the line substitute Naushad Moosaís firm header. Stung by this attack East Bengal scored at the hour. Chandanís cross was partially cleared and from the left edge of the box Okoro bulged the net with a crisp volley.

TEAMS

EAST BENGAL: V.P. Satish Kumar; Surya Bikash Chakraborty, Arun Malhotra, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury, Raju Singh; S. Malsawmtluanga, Douglas de Silva, Chandan Das, Sasthi Duley (Jiten Rai, 83); Kaustav Ghosh (Trijit Das, 73), Mike Okoro (K. Kulothungan, 65).

AIR INDIA: Rajat Guha; T. Khambiton Singh, Denis George, Radha Krishna Dube, (Naushad Moosa, 45), Osbern DíSouza; S. Altaj Ahmed, Steven Dias, S. Manglem, J. Singh (Paresh Shivalkar, 67), Vijith Shetty; Anthony Fernandez, Suprith Jaitanna.

Referee: N. Mohan (SSCB).

SUNDAYíS MATCHES: Mohammedan Sporting vs JCT (group A); ITI vs Vasco (group C).

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