| Suley Musah (right) rises above the Tollygunge defenders to head in East Bengal’s winner Friday. Pictures by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: Spurred by the call of the hour, individuals sometimes dare to outweigh the concept of football as a team game. The IFA Shield group A tie between East Bengal and Tollygunge Agragami on Friday was such an occasion and in the end, it proved to be Suley Musah’s day.
The Ghanaian defender was left out of the team due to injuries since the early stages of National League. His recovery chances were also doubtful since he spent the Durand Cup on the bench and it was believed that things were not at all going well with him in the club.
But he returned to action with a bang and it could not have come at a better time. With coach Subhas Bhowmick struggling to line up his playing XI, Musah appeared as the saviour. He set up the East Bengal lead, neutralised it himself and then knocked home the winner.
The match, in fact, threw up a significant number of bizarre incidents, making it a ‘comedy of circumstances’. If Musah, like a true protagonist, ensured a happy 2-1 ending for his team — in that case, a passage to the semi-finals — goalkeeper Arpan Dey’s late arrival in the East Bengal ground as striker, could at best be taken as comic relief.
“Hats off to my boys. I really don’t know how and from where they have been gathering motivation to stay in the contest,” Bhowmick said after the match. “I really would not have minded, had they returned today as losers,” he added.
In Sunday’s semi-finals, East Bengal will meet Vasco SC, while Churchill Brothers take on Tata Football Academy.
The coach had said on the match-eve that the value of the red-and-gold jersey would be strong enough to help his team tide over the crisis against Tollygunge Agragami, against whom a draw would have sufficed. The match also offered an opportunity for the also-rans to come good and force their way into the first team. Players like Trijit Das, Soumitra Chakraborty, Amjad Ali Khan, Jiten Rai and Swarup Chatterjee have so far spent the season mostly on the bench. But when chances fell their way, they hardly showed any resolve to rise to the occasion. This was what separated Musah from the rest of his teammates.
In the tenth minute, Musah chest-trapped Douglas’ left-wing cross inside the box, but the receiving was too far and quick to help Tollygunge goalkeeper Arindam Ghosh gain ground and collect the ball in time. This was followed by Rai’s failure in tapping in from close off a free-kick.
Musah finally made amends in the 31st minute when he received a ball on the right. He outpaced one defender, dribbled past another before entering the box and released a perfect square pass for Trijit to poke home.
The second half started on an inauspicious note for the home team when Tollygunge striker Laltu Das failed to beat Sangram Mukherjee from a one-to-one position. The home team conceded the goal lead in the 61st minute. Musah tried to clear Manas Das’ long but feeble attempt at goal, but the ball got deflected off his leg and went in.
After nine minutes, the Hyde and Jeckyll in Musah came a full circle when he rose above a jungle of rival defenders and headed home Rai’s cross from the left.
It was Musah’s rise to the occasion, literally.
EAST BENGAL: Sangram Mukherjee; Amjad Ali Khan, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury, Arun Malhotra, Sankarlal Chakraborty; Shasthi Duley, Douglas de Silva Santos, Soumitra Chakraborty (Swarup Chatterjee, 74), Jiten Rai (Arpan Dey, 88); Suley Musah, Trijit Das.
TOLLYGUNGE AGRAGAMI: Arindam Ghosh; Manas Das, Sujit Neogi, Debkumar Sasmal, Dipayan Majumdar; Isiaka Awoyemi, Sujoy Dutta, Owira Moses, Srikanta Dutta (Sumit Bhakta, 77); Biswarup Bishu (Uttam Debnath, 40), Laltu Das.
Referee: S. Yasin (Maharashtra).