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Md. Sp. in semis after 8 years
- Durand Cup l Midfield supremacy tilts balance in favour of black-and-white brigade

New Delhi: For Mohammedan Sporting and their faithful army of fans, the long wait is over. After eight years, the historic club entered the semi-finals of the Durand Cup football tournament, the 115th edition of which is being sponsored by Pepsi, with a 1-0 victory over JCT Sunday.

In a tense group A league match, a do or die affair for the Calcutta team, striker Dipendu Biswas scored the winner in the fourth minute. Mohammedan Sporting topped the group with four points from two matches. In the semi-finals, Mohammedan Sporting will face Army XI on Tuesday.

In another match, Vasco trounced ITI, Bangalore, 3-0 in a group B match. Brazilian striker Rui Wanderley, substitute Anthony Fernandez and midfielder Santa Singh scored. The win was inconsequential as Army XI had already made the cut from this group.

It was a memorable day for Mohammedan Sporting as Sunday’s victory was their first in this prestigious tournament since the 1-0 win over Punjab Police in 1995. They were eliminated from the quarter finals that time.

Mohammed Habeeb made three changes to the side which drew 1-1 with Tata Football Academy in the previous game. Captain Hussain Mustafi was out with a red card, medio Khemtang Paite was injured, while right-back Reazul Mustafa was dropped.

Habib Adekunle was pushed back to the centre of defence and he performed commendably. The lanky Nigerian was seldom beaten in the air and easily cut off JCT’s long passes.

Bishwanath Mondal came in as right-back and in midfield, Bhuvan Joshi and Abdul Rauf combined effectively with Amit Das and Syed Rahim Nabi to prevent JCT from developing any rhythm in their attacks. In the final count, the load shouldered by the midfield quartet must be treated as the difference between the teams.

The only setback for Mohammedan Sporting was the yellow card shown to Amandeep Singh which ruled him out of the semi-final. The left-back was booked for wasting time — a needless act of impatience.

The Calcutta League runners-up started at a whirlwind pace and struck early. Striker Abdulateef Seriki galloped down the left and sent a reverse pass and Dipendu’s left-footed flick beat the goalkeeper.

In the 15th minute, Nabi’s measured cross from the right was headed in by Seriki but assistant referee Deepak Bisht surprisingly ruled off-side. It was a horrendous decision as there were at least two JCT defenders behind him.

Despite dominating, the final pass from Mohammedan’s midfielders was often inaccurate and thus there were few clear openings. JCT stopper-back Harpreet Singh was also impressive with his timely tackles. Mohammedan Sporting dominated the first half totally and did not allow JCT a single opening.

Two minutes into the second half, Mohammedan Sporting missed a sitter. Dipendu’s subtle diagonal pass put Seriki through but he banged straight into an advancing goalkeeper — Ghanaian Mohammed Mansuru.

The tide reversed gradually. JCT used long passes to launch quick counterattacks and Mohammedan Sporting were pegged back into their own half but goalkeeper Imran Khan played the saviour.

Imran saved powerful shots from midfielder Hardip Saini and striker Hardip Gill. His gripping, as he came out to collect high passes, and his anticipation while charging out of the box to clear long balls were flawless.

TEAMS

Mohammedan Sporting: Imran Khan; Bishwanath Mondal, Insan Ali, Habib Adekunle, Amandeep Singh; Abdul Rauf (Arunava Sarkar, 73), Amit Das, Bhuvan Joshi, Syed Rahim Nabi; Dipendu Biswas, Abdulateef Seriki.

JCT: Mohammed Mansuru; Jagjit Randhawa, Harsharanjit Singh, Harpreet Singh, Daljit Singh; Jaswinder Singh, Hardeep Saini, Sukhwinder Singh (Gyan Moyon, 75), Ram Pal (Kuldeep Singh, 54); Kawabena Yeboah (Surjit Singh, 75), Hardeep Gill.

Referee: Binod Kumar Singh (Bihar).

EB may rest Okoro

East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick wants to rest in-from striker Mike Okoro for Monday’s match against Madras Engineering Group, Bangalore. East Bengal have all but made the cut, thanks to Saturday’s 4-0 win over Air India.

Both Brazilians, defensive midfielder Douglas de Silva and attacker Gilmar da Goncalves will play. Bhowmick is also thinking of resting S. Malsawmtluanga who is on a yellow card. K. Kulothungan may take his place.

MONDAY’S MATCHES: East Bengal vs MEG, Bangalore; Salgaocar vs Assam Regimental Centre.

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