| Mohun Bagan players with the Federation Cup on Saturday. A Telegraph picture
Calcutta: For the first time in the season, green and maroon became the colour of the nation as Mohun Bagan survived a dogged Sporting Clube de Goa, luck and a bizarre move by their own coach to lift the 28th Federation Cup at the Salt Lake Stadium on Saturday.
For the first time in the season also, Mohun Bagan’s dream became a reality as they shot the Goans out of the race with a 4-2 verdict in the tie-breaker after both teams finished 1-1 in regulation and extra time and brought home their first national trophy (leaving aside the IFA Shield) since winning the National League in 2002. In all, this was their 12 th triumph in the tournament.
This was also celebration time for Bhaichung Bhutia, who not only fulfilled his wish of lifting the solitary trophy, which was missing on his cupboard in a career spanning over a decade, but emerged as the Most Valuable Player of the tournament. This was a special moment for his captain Jose Ramirez Barreto as well, who won the title on back-to-back occasions (he scored twice in Mahindra United’s win last year).
As Mohun Bagan kept the flag of Bengal’s pride flying high, Sporting, also the last year’s runners-up, returned home with another so-near-yet-so-far script, carving a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment, to borrow Martin Luther King.
But there is no doubt that Sporting’s disappointment will take many a day to subside. They took the lead in the fifth minute through Harmonjot Singh Khabra, signalling their intention to end their long wait for the championship.
Mehtab Hussain fouled Joseph Pereira on the left and Nicholas Rodrigues curled in a free-kick, which was directed towards the goal by the midfielder, catching the home team off guard, who were still trying to regroup themselves.
Once that dust of uncertainty settled, Mohun Bagan prised open the rival defence in a brilliant, ruthlessly attacking spell of three minutes and duly picked up the equaliser.
It all started with Dulal Biswas’ cross from the right, Barreto selling a dummy and Bhaichung’s one-touch shot whistling over the horizontal. On came another attack, from the same side but the provider of the ball was Mehtab. Sporting central defender Felip Gomes cleared the danger in the nick of time before the ever-alert Bhaichung could swoop on it.
The next attack, which was initiated in the 28th minute in similar fashion, finally produced the goal. Mehtab again provided the cross and Fabio, having loped up from his position almost unnoticed, outjumped Felip Gomes to head home. Scintillating.
This was Mohun Bagan in their supreme class. This was how they were attempting to translate dream into reality. Barreto and Bhaichung posing the omnipresent threat to the Sporting box, Mehtab and Dharamjit Singh stomping the wings like men possessed and midfield playing their part with full of energy and enthusiasm.
However, those Mohun Bagan efforts failed to reap harvests thanks to the brilliant defending by Sporting backline. They kept a close vigil on Barreto’s movements and even though Bhaichung came up with his usual moments of brilliance, the goalkeeper Felix D’Souza remained ever alert to ensure no casualty struck them.
Mohun Bagan’s more serious problem, however, was something of their own making. As the match wore on, they could not sustain the same level of pressure on the opponents. So their sparkles slowly but surely fizzled out after the break. Sporting seized the opportunity by controlling the midfield with their typical passing football. A tiring Bagan midfield — who seemed to have lost too much energy in the first half — started struggling to cope with the pace of Sporting’s attacks.
Even if there was a chance of reviving their first-half sizzles, Mohun Bagan coach Robson cast a huge doubt over it by taking out Mehtab and Dharamjit in a bizarre move. They were replaced by two strikers Ayan Chowdhury and Sushil Singh and in between Dipendu was introduced as Lalkamal Bhowmick’s replacement. Surprising.
However, as luck continued to favour Mohun Bagan, the same deserted the Goan rivals. It became evident in the shootout.
Sangram saved Ernest Jeremiah’s kick while Sporting substitutes Jose Carvalho and Jagdish Pappai missed the target. Barreto, Dipendu and Fabio were spot-on with their kicks, rendering their final two kicks redundant. Nicolau Borges was the lone successful Sporting player to score in the tie-breaker.
Mohun Bagan: Sangram Mukherjee; Sanjev Maria, Deepak Mondal, Fabio Cortez Vidal, Bijay Basfore; Dulal Biswas, Mehtab Hussain (Ayan Chowdhury, 62), Lalkamal Bhowmick (Dipendu Biswas, 78), Dharamjit Singh (Sushil Singh, 88); Jose Ramirez Barreto, Bhachung Bhutia.
Sporting Clube de Goa: Felix D'Souza; Felip Gomes, Matthew Gonsalves, Rajesh Meetei (Jagdish Pappai, 86), Bello Rassaq; Harmonjot Singh Khabra (Jose Carvalho, 115), Joseph Pereira, Chandrasekhar Chinta, Nicholas Rodrigues (Nicolau Borges, 42); Ernest Jeremiah, Dudu Omagbemi.
Referee: S. Suresh (Tamil Nadu).