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Churchill fail to stop EB juggernaut

Calcutta: The clock ticked one minute past five o’clock in the evening at Salt Lake Stadium on Wednesday. When Shasthi Duley came out of the group near the central circle of the park, to take the sixth try of the penalty shoot-out, you could look around and immediately feel time stood still.

In the bench, Alvito D’Cunha and M. Suresh, joining the squad after the SAFF Cup, were biting their nails. Dipankar Roy tried to stretch his legs, but Anit Ghosh gestured everybody to sit where they were, with no change in body position.

Tension made way to superstition, superstition to an eerie silence.

Shasthi took a long walk — more than a minute, so to say — to reach the penalty spot. His captain and goalkeeper Sangram Mukherjee handed him a chance of lifetime, saving Tiken Singh’s shot just a few minutes ago. It was four-all before the sudden death was called for. Shasthi took his time, bamboozled Edward Ansah, forcing the Churchill custodian to dive to the wrong side and up came the moment.

The East Bengal bench rushed in to hold the diminutive midfielder high in the sky and it was followed by the holding of the TVS Fiero IFA Shield aloft — 27 times in all. In an immediate jump-cut, Subhas Bhowmick was noticed quietly going down the tunnel to the dressing room, leaving the joy and excitement behind him. It was also a historic moment for him, winning four titles in a row for the first time in his coaching career.

When both teams failed to break the deadlock after 120 minutes, it looked anybody’s game. Kasif Jamal, Rajesh Meetei, Noel Wilson and Yusif Yakubu converted for Churchill while Roque Barreto shot wide. Chandan Das, K. Kulothungan, Kaustav Ghosh and Douglas de Silva squared things up after Suley Musah shot straight at the goalkeeper.

All this drama, however, was completely uncalled for. Churchill must have cursed their luck not to break their proverbial second-best trend in the regulation time while Musah should have rued for not making a perfect finish to the Most Valuable Player of the tournament he later had won.

Two minutes from the completion of extra time, a Chandan through suddenly found Musah in an open box. But in a real shocker of a miss, the Ghanaian failed to beat Ansah from mere eight yards.

East Bengal adopted an ultra-defensive approach to the match with Musah playing as a screen behind the backline. This meant Churchill enjoyed early stages of ball possession. But they could not quite penetrate as the home team was defending deep.

It was a well laid out plan for Bhowmick, frustrating Yakubu and Meetei upfront on the one hand, and catch the rivals napping on the counter.

However, it was defender Subhashish Roy Chowdhury, who first tested Ansah with a 30-yard piledriver in the seventh minute.

Striker Trijit Das came close to making Ansah pay for dribbling histrionic, but there was no one to tap in his square pass.

The Goan team had a try at the goal in the 38th minute, when a slipshod defence allowed Jamal break free on the left. His resultant low long-ranger took a treacherous bounce before Sangram regained himself to palm it away.

All these, however, were occasional glares of an otherwise dismal show, in which both teams looked overcautious and not intent on finishing it off in the regulation time.

East Bengal did up the tempo midway through the second session, pushing Musah forward. But Churchill captain Noel Wilson was impeccable in his role as a sweeper, always present near the ball. He never allowed Shasthi to take control of the left wing, neither Musah felt too confident to get past him.

Chances also fell Yakubu and substitute Ratan Singh’s way at the end of the second half, but their poor finishing ensured issues needed to be settled through shoot-out.

Teams

East Bengal: Sangram Mukherjee; Amjad Ali Khan, Arun Malhotra, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury (Soumitra Chakraborty, 72), Suley Musah; Douglas de Silva Santos, Sankarlal Chakraborty, Shasthi Duley, Jiten Rai (K. Kulothungan, 92); Chandan Das, Trijit Das (Kaustav Ghosh, 108).

Churchill Brothers: Edward Ansah; Denzie Ferrao, Pio Rodrigues, Noel Wilson, Zaheer Abbas (Tiken Singh, 92); Roque Barreto, Aqueel Ansari, Kanta Singh (Ratan Singh, 70), Kasif Jamal; Rajesh Meetei, Yusif Yakubu.

Referee: Bharat Mani (Karnataka).

Had I missed, I wouldn’t have pardoned myself, says Duley

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