| Bijen Singh, who scored East Bengal's first two goals against HAL, squanders a chance to complete the hattrick at Salt Lake Stadium on Thursday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: In whatever football was possible on the treacherous turf of the Salt Lake Stadium Thursday, East Bengal recorded a 5-0 win, against a team that will probably struggle to find a berth in the IFA Super Division League. The victory put East Bengal in the quarter finals of the Tata Federation Cup where they will meet Vasco.
HAL were not expected to put up a strong resistance and it took the city giants just five minutes to hit the first — eagerly awaited by the 15,000 fans, constantly beating away on the drums.
Bijen Singh and Chandan Das scored a brace each and Dipankar Roy — not included in the ASEAN squad — capped a terrific comeback match with the other. Many more chances came their way, but the build-ups — made arduous by the mud of course — probably soaked up that extra energy which turns chances into goals.
Missing from the team that won the final in Jakarta were Bhaichung Bhutia, Mike Okoro, Suley Musah, Sasthi Duley, Dipak Mondal and Sur Kumar Singh, while Debjit Ghosh came back into the XI after a head injury which had kept him out of most of ASEAN meet.
Even then it was one-way traffic and HAL’s tale of humiliation started shortly after kick-off. Alvito D’Cunha released Shylo Malsawmtluanga inside the box and after dragging it too much to the left while dribbling the goalkeeper, the latter chipped the ball for an unmarked Bijen. The striker converted, probably with the easiest header of his life.
Dipankar was menacing down the right and cleverly kept as close to the touchline as possible for that stretch of the ground had still some green left. The HAL sideback was having a harrowing time and Dipankar’s crosses were accurate on most occasions. East Bengal got the second following a move from the right, but for a change, it was not Dipankar.
Malsawmtluanga had seen the HAL goalkeeper out of his line and deftly chipped the ball which was kept out by a desperately backtracking Amit Sinha Roy. But the ball was still in play and with Sinha Roy helplessly lying on the ground, Bijen faced no problem in booting in the second.
Chandan scored with two powerful right-footers and Dipankar was rewarded for his hard work after the breather, but football was not the talking point by then: the struggle to remain footing and kicking the ball on a fast deteriorating pitch was.
The ground was a nightmare. The high-flying city giants’ problem was the slush underfoot which ruled out all possibilities of proper football.
The ground at one the finest stadiums in Asia has been reduced to a pool of mud, which is getting worse with each outing. Playing on the same pitch on successive days, under varying degrees of rainfall, is bound to take its toll after all.
The floodlights exposed the dark side of the story.
East Bengal: Sandip Nandy (Jitu Chetri, 71); Mahesh Gawli, Debjit Ghosh, M. Suresh; Subhas Chakraborty, S. Malsawmtluanga, Douglas da Silva, Alvito D’Cunha, Dipankar Roy; Bijen Singh (K. Kulothungan, 65), Raman Vijayan (Chandan Das, 51).
HAL: Amit Sinha Roy; Kiran, Paramesh, Alesh Shamaka, Raikan, Rajendra Prasad (Goutam Ghosh, 56), Murali, Satish (Sunil, 40), Xavier, Sheikh Sabir, Shyam Kumar (Dayanand, 25).
Referee: J. Ravishankar (Delhi).