The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Football in seventh heaven as Bagan down East Bengal
- Venkatesh, Alvito score a brace each in high-scoring thriller

Calcutta: This was football as good as it could get.

The refereeing controversy going into the El Classico of Indian football was a thing of the past. So was the fuss the Mohun Bagan officials created in the build-up. What stood out was the way 11 players each from two powerhouses of Indian football lit up a gloomy evening sky over the Salt Lake Stadium on Friday.

One cannot expect a better advertisement of the game than Mohun Bagan’s 4-3 win over East Bengal. Less than a couple of hours later, the national team’s 6-0 demolition of Cambodia in the ONGC Nehru Cup in Delhi made it an even more memorable day for Indian football.

Mohun Bagan actually raised hopes of avenging the five-goal ignominy —in the 1975 IFA Shield final against East Bengal — when PC Lalawmpuia, Jose Ramirez Barreto and S. Venkatesh put the green-and-maroons 3-0 up inside the first session. East Bengal coach Subrata Bhattacharya must have given his boys a Rafael Benitez-like lecture during the break as his side came back to raise visions of a Liverpool-like comeback (against AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final).

The mercurial Alvito D’Cunha played the key role in East Bengal’s fightback. He scored twice within 16 minutes of resumption and was instrumental in most of the forays into the Mohun Bagan box.

A costly mistake by the East Bengal defence allowed Venkatesh to make it 4-2. That doused the red-and-gold fire to a large extent. Edmilson did score via a penalty to reduce the margin, but that mistake remained the talking point.

After a long time, the Salt Lake Stadium throbbed in the presence of around one lakh people. They shouted every time Jose Ramirez Barreto dodged past a rival or Edmilson tested the goalkeeper.

A heavy shower before kick-off couldn’t pour cold water on the enthusiasm in and around the stadium. Mohun Bagan supporters were soon dancing in the rain when East Bengal’s Ghanaian defender Abdul Samed undid the good work of teammate M. Suresh.

Suresh’s lunging tackle denied Lalawmpuia in the nick of time but Samed, to everybody’s surprise, passed the ball back to goalkeeper Abhra Mondal only to see Lalawmpuia pouncing on it, turning quickly and placing it to perfection.

It started a goal-rush which exploded in astounding fashion. Never before did a derby see seven goals.

East Bengal coach Subrata Bhattacharya’s ploy of using Amulya Mondal — who had not been in the XI in the four previous matches — as a midfield blocker didn’t work and he had to be replaced by Dipendu Biswas in the first quarter itself.

The strategy of employing Madhab Das to nullify Barreto’s brilliance also backfired as the Brazilian proved too intelligent for his marker. Madhab tried everything — pushing, lunging, pulling jersey — but Barreto could not be contained.

Madhab, in fact, gave his coach another shock in the 35th minute. As Lalawmpuia delivered a goalmouth cross, Barreto sprinted ahead only to be tripped by his marker. Penalty was the call. The Brazilian converted it without any fuss.

Soon it was 3-0. Venkatesh outwitted Anupam Sarkar to slot home from close.

However, Mohun Bagan were as frail in defence as they were beguiling in attack. East Bengal, completely outplayed and exposed in the first half, responded with conviction after the break, thanks to Alvito D’Cunha’s brilliance.

The attacking medio pulled one back within seconds of resumption with a stunning left-footer from about 25 yards. He then cashed in on goalkeeper Shilton Paul’s folly, injecting life into what appeared to be a one-sided affair.

Despite Venkatesh’s second goal in between, Edmilson earned and converted a penalty in the 70th minute to keep East Bengal afloat. It was again a correct call. Subrata Sarkar’s handling of the match couldn’t have been better.

Shilton again unnecessarily came out of his line, giving Dipendu Biswas the chance to complete a fine comeback. But his header lacked power and the Mohun Bagan goalie regrouped in time to clear the ball as it was rolling into an open net. Mohun Bagan scored four times against their arch-rivals for the first time. But the records were only for the statisticians’ book. It was football which was the real winner.


Mohun Bagan: Shilton Paul; Habibur Rahman, Peter Odafe, Peter Siddiqui, Rauf Khan; Lalkamal Bhowmick (Sumon Dutta, 71), James Singh, S. Venkatesh, Dharamjit Singh (Ishfaq Ahmed, 88), Jose Ramirez Barreto; PC Lalawmpuia

East Bengal: Abhra Mondal; Gurpreet Singh, M. Suresh, Abdul Samed (Anupam Sarkar, 39), Madhab Das (Chandan Das, 46), Saumik Dey; Amulya Dey (Dipendu Biswas, 15), Jayanta Sen, Alvito D’Cunha, Dipankar Roy, Edmilson

Referee: Subrata Sarkar

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