Jakarta: There is no stopping the East Bengal juggernaut. Keeping up their tremendous run, the Calcutta club reached the ASEAN Club Championship final after beating Indonesia champions Petrokimia Putra 8-7 in sudden-death on Thursday.
Regulation time and 30 minutes of extra time ended with the teams tied at 1-1. Even the tie-breaker failed to break the deadlock, with the teams converting four shots each. The stalemate continued as the teams found the mark with the next two shots each, before East Bengal goalkeeper Sandip Nandy blocked Petrokimia Putra’s eighth penalty.
East Bengal will meet BEC Tero Sasana in Saturday’s final. They had lost 0-1 to the same team in a group league match on July 14. The Thai champions beat Perak of Malaysia 3-1 in the second semi-final.
It was a historic win for East Bengal as no other Indian team had ever reached the final of a tournament of such stature. They had to work hard and overcame a 22nd-minute deficit with Bhaichung Bhutia equalising 15 minutes into the second half.
It was Bhutia’s seventh goal of the competition, which made him the strongest contender for the award for the highest scorer. He had hit five against Army FC of the Philippines and one against Persita Tangerang of Indonesia in the quarter final.
It was a match East Bengal should have finished off well before than they eventually did. The goal they conceded was silly and after running roughshod over their rivals in the second half, an equaliser was all that they managed.
There was bad news in the Indian club’s camp as well.
Mahesh Gawli was marched off in the 85th minute following a second yellow, which ruled him out of Saturday’s final. Nigerian striker Mike Okoro, playing his first match here, left the field with a shoulder injury in the 37th minute. He, too, looks uncertain for the final.
East Bengal started on a bright note. Alvito D’Cunha was lively on the left flank and threatening to cut loose every now and then. Though his team was still trying to fathom the intensity of Petrokimia’s challenge, D’Cunha decided to go solo and hoodwinked two defenders on the left in the 15th minute, before sending in a gem of cross for Bhutia.
The goalkeeper was beaten but the star striker’s header went over an empty goal. It was by far the easiest chance of the day.
Things, however, started changing after that. Petrokimia were coming back into the match and their Brazilian forward Rivaldo Costa was looking dangerous, operating down both flanks.
The Indonesian champions took the lead in somewhat bizarre fashion in the 22nd minute. Goalkeeper Sandip Nandy was attempting a drop-volley after a routine collection and didn’t notice he had stepped out of the penalty box.
The Thai referee ruled hand-ball and awarded a direct free-kick in favour of the Indonesians. The resultant shot was well-taken and hit the inner half of the far post before crossing the goalline.
Though not convincing in the remainder of the opening session, during which they came close twice, East Bengal came out a transformed lot after the breather. Increasing men up front, and attacking down both flanks, they shattered the rhythm of Petrokimia.
It started in the 55th minute, when Surkumar Singh rocked the cross-piece with a thunderous free-kick. For the next 25 minutes it was all East Bengal as they created one chance after another. Fortunately for the Indonesian team, they took in just one goal despite being outplayed under a barrage of attacks.
D’Cunha was late in turning after receiving the ball inside the box; Surkumar committed the blunder of not releasing with two men waiting unmarked after a tremendous run down the flank; Douglas failed to beat the goalkeeper with a header from handshaking distance — these were the easiest chances in a spell of 25 minutes.
In between, Bhutia fished out the equaliser following yet another fine move. It started from Surkumar who essayed a floater for Sasthi on the right and the medio headed the ball down for Bhutia. The striker made no mistake this time, flicking it over an advancing goalkeeper.
Petrokimia’s only chance in the second half had come before the East Bengal storm and it once again followed a goalkeeping blunder. Nandy lost possession of the ball after collecting a routine cross and a Petrokimia striker was quick to pounce on it. Gawli showed good reflexes and stuck out his leg to save his from going 0-2 down.
East Bengal: Sandip Nandy; Dipak Mondal, Mahesh Gawli, M. Suresh; Suley Musah, Douglas da Silva, Sasthi Duley (Chandan Das, 99), Surkumar Singh; Bhaichung Bhutia, Alvito D’Cunha (Bijen Singh, 65), Mike Okoro (Shylo Malsawmtluanga, 37).