| Jubilant East Bengal players along with coach Phillipe de Ridder after defeating Mohammedan Sporting 1-0 in the National Football League opener at the Salt Lake Stadium on Tuesday. Picture by Gautam Bose
Calcutta: Despite the All India Football Federation (AIFF) trying its best to kickstart the 10th edition of the National Football League for the ONGC Cup in a colourful manner, the inaugural match between East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting was an exhibition of drab display.
Though East Bengal collected full points by a flash of sheer brilliance from Bhaichung Bhutia ' who scored the winner in the 78th minute ' the overall display in the whole 90-minute affair was quite disappointing.
The first day’s first show kicked off with Zebra girls who danced to the tunes of singer Shaan and others. The dancing dolls, turned up especially for the purpose, also had to rise to the occasion every time when something was there to rejoice.
Then enter Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and sports minister Subhas Chakraborty along with AIFF president Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, former stars Sailen Manna, P.K. Banerjee and others. IFA secretary Subrata Dutta was also with them. Bhattacharjee, the chief guest, kicked the ball to mark the inauguration.
Mohammedan Sporting, who have a couple of foreigners in their ranks ' Patrick Okonji and David Mkandwire ' did all the tricks to topple the former champions’ defence, but was unsuccessful mainly because of debutant Anupam Sarkar and Covan Lawrence.
Anupam certainly deserves a pat for the effort he put in to thwart Pattrick from scoring. Patrick, arguably the best foreign recruit on the Maidan at the moment, couldn’t move freely inside the box as he was kept under strict vigil by the young East Bengal stopper back. The experienced Lawrence was rock solid as well.
Only once did Patrick get a long through from the midfield, which could have made it 1-0 for the black-and-whites, but he squandered the chance by shooting it over the bar. After that it was all East Bengal, who mainly operated from the right via Rahim Nabi.
The red-and-golds looked weaker on the left and Sasthi Duley’s absence was felt heavily. Alvito D’Cunha was the key man for them who took a lot workload in the middle playing from a bit inside. Alvito created a few opportunities, but his fellow teammates failed to convert those.
Mohammedan Sporting were handicapped when their first-choice goalie Arindam Ghosh had to leave the field after getting injured and Gopal Das took charge under the bar. Arindam collided with East Bengal captain Bhaichung and got the injury.
Just after arrival, Gopal was tested. Jayanto Sen unleashed a well directed 40-yarder which was saved by diving Gopal.
The match was evenly poised in the first half, but it tilted in favour of the former champions after the breather, especially when one of the foreigners David was replaced by Madhusudan Majumdar. David’s presence definitely made the East Bengal players’ task tougher.
Ultimately it was the Sikkimese who stole the show and lifted the Man-of-the-Match award by scoring a fantastic goal 12 minutes from time.
Malsawmtluanga’s long through intended for Bhaichung could have been intercepted by Wazid, who completely messed it and gifted the ball to the East Bengal striker.
Bhaichung made no mistake putting the ball in the right slot with his firm left footer. En route he also deceived Madhusudan Majumdar by an inside dodge.
EAST BENGAL: Naseem Akhtar, Syed Rahim Nabi, Covan Lawrence, Anupam Sarkar, Saumik Dey, Shylo Malsawmtluanga, Jayanto Sen, Alvito D’Cunha, K. Kulothungan, R.C. Prakash (Gouranga Dutta 62), Bhaichung Bhutia.
MOHAMMEDAN SPORTING: Arindam Ghosh (Gopal Das 43), Palash Karmakar, Wazid Ali, Madhab Das, David Mkandwire (Madhusudan Majumdar 46), Mir Farooq Hyder, Mohammed Muktar, Bijen Singh, Jiten Rai (K.P. Zubair 59), Satyajit Bose, Patrick Okonji.
REFEREE: S. Suresh (Tamil Nadu).