Calcutta: Two goals in a span of two minutes just before half-time. And Kingfisher East Bengal’s dream run was over.
At the Salt Lake Stadium, in the return leg of the AFC Cup semi-final on Tuesday, the gap between Kuwait SC and East Bengal was all the more glaring under the floodlights. In the end, the scoreline read 3-0 and the defending champions entered the final 7-2 on aggregate.
Brazilian Rogerio scored the first in the 42nd minute. The second came two minutes later through Hadi Khamees, a surprise inclusion ahead of Issam Jemaa.
The last one came four minutes before regulation time when Abhishek Das scored an own goal while trying to clear Fahad Awad’s shot.
It was a clinical display from the visitors. Even those 70,000 spectators, who came in droves hoping against hope that their favourite East Bengal will do something out-of-the world, would also agree. Clearly, Kuwait SC were a far more superior team than East Bengal. In terms of talent, skill and style…
They did not do anything extravagant. They soaked in all the pressure in the first 40 minutes when East Bengal tried to overcome the two-goal deficit (they had lost the first leg 2-4) and waited to catch their rivals napping on the break.
Till 40 minutes, East Bengal threw whatever they had. In the 23rd, James Moga had a chance as he muscled his way past three defenders, but couldn’t get past Kuwait SC goalkeeper Musab Alkandari. Before that, Moga had laid off Saumik Dey on the left but the latter’s attempt lacked direction.
And then in the 42nd came the first goal. Rogerio was roaming around the centre half when the Brazilian got a loose ball. He looked up, waited for a second and then ran… And ran. Arnab Mondal and Uga Okpara gave up once they realised it’s no point chasing and the Brazilian calmly placed the ball past an onrushing Abhijit Mondal.
Two minutes later, Khamees joined the party. He came from the blindside to beat the off-side trap, lobbed the ball over Abhijit and pushed it home. Even Arnab’s desperate lunge could not deny the man, who was preferred over Jemaa because of his speed.
A minute later, Hadi did the unthinkable. Without any provocation, he kicked Uga Okpara as both lost their footing while going for ball. Australian referee Strebe Delovski rightly showed him the red card.
One man short and 0-2 down, East Bengal needed to score four in the next 45 minutes. It was a tall order but still they tried. Goalkeeper Alkandari got a finger to Lalrindika Ralte’s brilliant free-kick. On any other day, that would have entered the goal.
But the ball hit the base of the near-post and went the other way. Alkandari was once again pressed into action. This time he fisted away substitute Baljit Sahni’s back-header.
As East Bengal showed signs of fatigue, Rogerio made another run and Arnab once again was at the receiving end.
When Rogerio received the ball, Arnab was well positioned. Then the Brazilian suddenly changed gears and Arnab did not know what to do. Realising that Rogerio was running away to get his second, Arnab pulled his jersey. Delovski flashed the red card promptly.
Rogerio had more in store. This time he took on Uga and Abhishek. The duo found his mazy run too hot to handle and the Brazilian’s neat placement past Abhijit hit the post.
The crowd got up and applauded Rogerio. It was one of those rare occasions when you get to see East Bengal supporters on their feet and applauding a player from the rival team. Chuni Goswami, IM Vijayan and Bruno Coutinho are the lucky few.
Rogerio was class apart. Most of the time he looked reluctant to play his part, but once he got the ball he was simply amazing.
“He tormented us today,” East Bengal coach Marcos Falopa stated the most obvious.
Depite the loss, it was a memorable 2013 AFC Cup campaign for Mehtab Hussain & Co. They were unbeaten for nine matches which itself is a record and reached the semi-final for the first time.
A journey, which started with Trevor James Morgan, ended under Falopa. A journey which every East Bengal player and supporter will remember for many years to come.
Kuwait SC: Musab Alkandari; Fahad Awadh, Hussain Ali Baba (Abdullah Al Buraiki 78), Hussain Hakem, Fahad Hamoud, Jarah Al Ateeqi (Abdullah Aldhafeeri 85); Yaqoub Al Taher, Waleed Ali (Shereedah Al Shereedah 72), Chadi Hammami, Hadi Khamees; Rogerio.
East Bengal: Abhijit Mondal; Abhishek Das, Arnab Mondal, Uga Okpara, Saumik Dey; Joaquim Abranches (Robert Lalthlamuana 70), Mehtab Hussain, Cavin Lobo (Shylo Malswamtluanga 84), Lalrindika Ralte; Edeh Chidi, James Moga (Baljit Sahni 52).
Referee: Strebe Delovski (Australia)