|Churchill players with the Federation Cup, on Saturday
Kochi: As referee MB Santhosh Kumar blew the final whistle there was unbridled euphoria at the Churchill Brothers bench. Churchill Alemao, the club owner, embraced coach Mariano Dias, Abdelhamid Shabana was seen celebrating with the supporters, and Anthony Wolfe was waving the Churchill flag furiously. And they had every reason to be delirious.
It’s their maiden Federation Cup title win and, that too, against Goan rivals Sporting Clube de Goa. The 3-1 scoreline, at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, here, on Saturday, might give an impression that the final was a close contest, but it wasn’t.
Except for the first 10 minutes, when Sporting Clube did show some intent, it was Churchill all the way. In fact by the 64th minute, they were 3-0 up and the contest was as good as over.
Churchill had a simple plan. Soak in early pressure and then catch Sporting Clube napping on the wrong foot. Sporting, who were playing their third match in five days, were jaded and Churchill knew sooner or later they would run out of steam.
The schedule was not kind to Sporting Clube. They played in Manjeri on January 21, travelled 180 kilometres by bus and reached Kochi on Wednesday morning, played a 120-minute semi-final clash against Dempo SC and within two days the final.
As expected, Sporting Clube did lose their vigour after 10 minutes. With Ogba Kalu not in his elements, the Sporting Clube midfield was non-existent.
On the other hand, Abdelhamid Shabana, Lenny Rodrigues, Thangjam Singh and Alesh Sawant were putting pressure on the Sporting Clube citadel and, upfront, Balwant Singh and Anthony Wolfe made sure the two central defenders, Joynar Lourenco and Neila Gonzalo, did not breathe easy.
Twenty-third minute into the match Churchill went 1-0 up. Joynar Lourenco bungled big time as he dilly-dallied with a pass. Balwant sensing he was in with a chance came rushing, flicked the ball from Joynar’s foot and slotted it home.
The goal probably infuriated Boimah Karpeh, the Sporting Clube forward. He kicked Abdelhamid Shabana without any provocation. It deserved a red card, but referee Santhosh Kumar let him off with a yellow.
Churchill could have got their second eight minutes before half-time. Wolfe had only goalkeeper Ravi Kumar to beat but lost his footing. And then Lenny’s brilliant shot missed the target by a whisker. Churchill, surely, were all over their Goan rivals and Sporting Clube were chasing shadows.
Minutes after the restart, Churchill went 2-0 up. Antony Wolfe got the better of Rovan Pereira on the right and his cross wasn’t cleared by anyone. Ravi Kumar just about managed to handle it but Alesh Sawant was at the right place at the right time to push it home.
Churchill got their third in the 64th minute. Sporting Clube won a free-kick on the right but Beevan D’Mello’s cross was cleared. Stephen Barreto lost the ball and, on the counter, Thangjam Singh released the ball for Shabana whose delightful shot found the back of the net.
Sporting Clube pulled one back minutes later. Ogba Kalu’s through ball found Victorino Fernandes and the India international made no mistake in hitting the back of the net.
Over all it’s a great performance by Churchill Brothers. Credit should go their indigenous defence which dealt with the likes of Okolie Odafe and Karpeh commendably. Denzil Franco, Sanjay Balmuchu, Dharamraj Ravanan, Yumham Raju showed that you do not have to be brawny to be a good defender. At a time when every club runs after a foreign defender, this Churchill back-four proves a point.