| Mahindra United players with the trophy at Salt Lake Stadium on Wednesday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta: There are two faces of East Bengal that make them dazzling sometimes and self-destructive on other occasions.
East Bengal the winner always revels in a riot of aggression, a you-better-watch-me body language smacking of confidence and resolve to raise the bar as high as it gets. East Bengal the crooner, conversely, whittles down to a reckless type in which the very team looks like disciplinary liability, burdened with pressure and blunted without ideas.
That East Bengal returned empty-handed again, this time going down to Mahindra United 4-5 in another shootout at Salt Lake Stadium on Wednesday, may be of little significance in that everybody’s eyes are now trained on the National Football League (NFL).
In the match, which ended 1-1 after regulation time (there was no extra time) with both goals also coming off spot-kicks, the teams were experimental and engaged in giving finishing touches to their development of the best possible resources before the premier tournament kicks off on November 28.
During the decider, S. Malsawmtluanga and Sujoy Dutta, both second-half substitutes, failed to beat Mahindra United goalkeeper Kalyan Chowbey, nullifying goals from captain Suley Musah, K. Kulothungan and Chandan Das.
Their goalkeeper Jitu Chhetri, who substituted Sandip Nandy minutes before the final whistle because of his expertise in such situations, was clueless against shots from Odartey Lawson, Khalid Jamil, Jules Alberto and Abhishek Yadav. Dutta’s failure meant Mahindra didn’t have to take the fifth kick.
True, East Bengal are entitled to their blueprints and dreams, but coach Subhas Bhowmick’s task of maintaining standards may now need a few mountains to climb. Because the winners in East Bengal are gradually vanishing from the limelight and the crooners in them seem to be getting more exposures.
Besides, losing three titles through penalty shootouts (Durand Cup and IFA Shield being the other two) also points to the team’s inability to finish off the match within regulation time — something the winners in East Bengal once hated to do.
Seen from another perspective, what could be more worrying for Bhowmick is that the trail of those qualities that had kept their trophy-winning juggernaut on a roll last season, now seem to have detoured from the Maidan to Mumbai and found a better place to live in Mahindra United.
East Bengal won five trophies out of five last season, apart from their history-scripting triumph in the ASEAN Club Championship in Jakarta this July. Mahindra have already pocketed four in current season, including a meet in Maldives and their unsuccessful campaign in the Durand Cup so far remains their only aberration from the winning trail. Success is fleeting and how fast it changes hands!
East Bengal, though, should have rescued something of substance from the Super Cup, despite missing six key players. Particularly in a chastening second half, they had Mahindra on the mat but their forwards lacked the finesse of Bhaichung Bhutia and alacrity of Mike Okoro.
There was no M. Suresh, Douglas da Silva and Dipak Mondal either. Bhowmick was, thus, forced to reorganise his backline with Debjit Ghosh falling deep and captain Musah roving just above the penalty area. Dipankar Roy and Alvito D’Cunha were operating down the flanks and Sasthi Duley playing in the middle.
East Bengal went into the 19th-minute lead when Vijayan’s side-volley off a Dipankar corner was handled by Jamil and Musah had no difficulty in converting the spot-kick.
Chances came Mahindra’s way through long-rangers once from James Singh and Jules before they equalised on the stroke of half-time. Musah pushed down Raphael Patron Akakpo inside the box, paving the way for Sandip in collecting a cross from the middle and Felix Aboagye completed the resultant penalty in style.
Musah again was the culprit when he tripped Felix in the 61st minute, but the Ghanaian player ballooned the spot-kick well over the bar. East Bengal immediately responded to the reprieve with a fine sweeping move that saw Alvito shooting off target from a vantage position.
Malsawmtluanga’s arrival made Dipankar switch to the left with Alvito going in the middle. This provided sting to East Bengal’s attacks down the flanks as Kulothungan and Sasthi went for the jugular.
But the Mahindra defence managed to hold firm in the teeth of such pressure and forced East Bengal to face another nemesis in Chowbey, who saved two shots in the shootout.
Mahindra United: Kalyan Chowbey; Cowan Lawrence, Arun Malhotra, Odartey Lawson, Sanjay Parte; Jinto Jose, Khalid Jamil, Jules Dias Alberto, James Singh (Steven Dias, 75); Raphael Patron Akakpo (Syed Altafuddin, 73), Felix Aboagye (Abhishek Yadav, 85).
East Bengal: Sandip Nandy (Jitu Chhetri, 88); Surkumar Singh, Suley Musah, Mahesh Gawli, Debjit Ghosh; Sasthi Duley, Chandan Das, Alvito D’Cunha, Dipankar Roy (Sujoy Dutta, 89); K. Kulothungan, Raman Vijayan (S. Malsawmtluanga, 70).
Referee: S. Suresh.