Kochi: It’s all over for Karim Bencharifa and his men. Mohun Bagan bowed out of the Federation Cup losing 1-2 to Churchill Brothers in the first semi-final at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, here, on an unusually humid Thursday.
Mohun Bagan, who were dreaming of ending a three-and-half years of title drought, will return empty-handed once again from a major tournament. It’s a feeling of déjà vu for every Mohun Bagan fan.
The build-up to the semi-final was all about the Calcutta giants. It was as if they had already won the Cup. The officials, the media, even the players were so confident of winning, that it bordered on complacency.
It was as if Churchill Brothers were in the semi-final just to fill up the numbers. And, on Thursday, the Goan team showed on the pitch how badly prepared Mohun Bagan were for this important clash.
Balwant Singh put them ahead in the fourth minute, Anthony Wolfe made it 2-0 in the 16th minute. Okolie Odafe pulled one back in the 33rd minute.
But Churchill managed to stay firm for the rest of the match and deservedly entered the final for the first time. “The dream is coming true,” coach Mariano Dias was spot-on at the post-match media conference.
Churchill began on a whirlwind fashion once again, proving why attack is the best form of defence. It caught the Calcutta team off-guard and they conceded a goal in the fourth minute.
The back-four watched as an unmarked Balwant headed in Thangjam Singh’s corner, past custodian Shilton Paul. Nobody cared to mark the man who is making a mark for himself on the national football scene.
The second was also a soft goal. Christopher Chizoba’s mispass landed on Balwant’s feet. Balwant turned past Aiborlang Khongjee and the nervous defender brought him down. Referee Pratap Singh had no hesitation in awarding the penalty. Anthony Wolfe converted from the spot without much ado.
Down by two goals, Mohun Bagan realised things were getting out of their hands. They came back strongly, creating chances. But the likes of Ram Malik and Christopher failed to convert them.
Then in the 33rd minute, Denson Devadas’ lob found Okolie Odafe inside the box. The Nigerian chested down the ball and a prompt right footer found the far corner of the goal.
Mohun Bagan did come up with chances to score, but the Churchill defence held its ground.
Bagan’s inexperience was all the more glaring, when the lights were switched on. Pritam Kotal, Souvik Ghosh, Ram Malik, Pankaj Maula were so nervous, that at times they looked as if they wanted the referee to blow the final whistle. Probably the hype surrounding the team had taken a toll on them.
“Yes they were nervous. When everyone talks about winning the Cup, it puts you under pressure. These are young players and they must have learnt something from this match,” Karim said after the match, in the team dressing room.
Outside in the aisle, Abdelhamid Shabana and Balwant Singh were in a celebratory mood. So was Wolfe, Lenny Rodrigues and Lalit Thapa.
Shabana was brilliant on the field. Whether dropping deep or going up in attach, he was in the class of his own. His presence had such an effect that Denson and Katsumi Yusa did not know how to counter him.
This allowed Lenny to play more freely and link up well with Wolfe and Balwant. It had a telling effect on the match. Balwant’s movement inside the box is predatory and he has the nose for goals.
“Should get a national team call-up immediately,” Dias said. Few would disagree with that. As he was heaping praise on Balwant, Bagan players trooped out from their dressing room.
Shoulders drooping, sullen faces —a familiar scene with Mohun Bagan now. Entering the semi-final in style had raised hopes that remained unfulfilled. Bagan remain as they were before.
Churchill Brothers: Lalit Thapa, Denzil Franco, Sanjay Balmuchu, Dharamraj Ravannan, Y Raju, Lenny Rodrigues, Alesh Sawant (JaisonValez 40), Abdelhamid Shabana, Thangjam Singh (Bineesh Balan 86), Balwant Singh, Anthony Wolfe
Mohun Bagan: Shilton Paul, Pritam Kotal, Aiborlang Khongjee, Aniyeche Echezona, Souvik Ghosh (Kingshuk Debnath 77), Ram Malik (Zakeer Mundampara 67), Pankaj Moula (Shankar Oraon 51), Denson Devadas, Katsumi Yusa, Okolie Odafe, Chistopher Chizoba
Referee: Pratap Singh