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43-year wait ends, it’s time for celebrations

- Naseem saves two in shoot-out as Md. Sp. win IFA Shield
Mohammedan Sporting players celebrate after their win, at the Salt Lake Stadium, on Saturday. A Telegraph picture

Calcutta: With just two minutes left for the extra-time to end and Saturday’s IFA Shield final going towards the penalty shoot-out, Mohammedan Sporting coach Sanjoy Sen took what was probably the biggest gamble of his coaching career.

He brought in Naseem Akhtar in place of Luis Barreto, who was having an outstanding game under the bar. Naseem hasn’t been playing regularly, but Sen had faith in his ability in tie-breakers. And the man from Benaras did not let his team down.

He made two crucial saves in the penalty shoot-out as Mohammedan Sporting won the IFA Shield after 43 long years, beating Dhanmondi Club 5-4 (1-1 after extra-time). Forty-three years is a rather long time.

There was unbridled euphoria at the floodlit Salt Lake Stadium as Naseem dived to his right to fist away Didarul Haque’s attempt. He raised his arms, leapt in joy, and then went down on his knees with arms outstretched. The crowd just went berserk. They crossed the barbed fences of the stadium and ran on to the pitch. But for a change, nobody complained about that. It was Mohammedan Sporting’s night. The night of the Third Force.

The last time they won a major trophy in Calcutta was in 1981 and it was the Calcutta Football League… The last time they won two trophies in one season was in 1984. The club and the supporters badly needed a major trophy in their cabinet.

For Sanjoy Sen, finally the monkey was off his back. From the dug-out, he had had seen his team (United Sports Club) lose the finals of two major tournaments in penalty shoot-outs. “Third time lucky,” a relieved Sen said at the post-match news conference. “I am over the moon,” said Naseem. “I have proved a point. The coach had faith in me and I have not let him down,” Naseem’s voice was hardly audible amidst the din in the aisle.

Mohammedan Sporting could have finished off the match in the regulation time, but for Penn Orji who missed two easy chances.

Once an open net was staring at him and he volleyed over and then his weak prod with only goalkeeper Mazharul Islam to beat was cleared to safety by Yeasin Khan. Syed Rahim Nabi failed from handshaking distance, Joshimar could not hit the back of the net with only the rival goalkeeper at his mercy. Mohammedan Sporting seemed to be frittering away their chances.

Dhanmondi too had their moments. Sony Nordy, even though he was marked, was able to break free very often but surprisingly ran out of ideas once inside the rival attacking third. Two players shone for Dhanmondi. One was captain Mamun Islam and the other was Sohail Rana.

They were simply brilliant in the midfield, but sadly did not get enough support from Wedson Anselme and Emeka Darlington.

It was Dhanmondi who took the lead in the 28th minute. Nordy was brought down by Rakesh Masih and referee MB Santhosh Kumar awarded a free-kick. Nordy relishes these set-pieces. He bent one from around 25 yards which hit the angle of the near post and the crosspiece and then kissed the neck of an air-borne Luis Barreto before nestling into the net.

The equaliser came two minutes into the injury-time of the first half.

Nirmal Chetri’s centre came from the right and Joshimar brilliantly shielded Yeasin Khan to lay it off for Mehrajuddin Wadoo. Mehrajuddin, who had a fantastic match, waited for a second and then banged in giving the goalkeeper no chance.

The two teams were down by a man each eight minutes before the end of regulation time. Luciano brought down Nordy who retaliated by elbowing the Brazilian.

Referee Santhosh had no hesitation in showing a red card to the Haitian, while Luciano got the marching order for the double yellow. The extra-time was less dramatic, barring Penn missing a sitter and then Naseem Akhtar walked in, in the 118th minute. After that, what was witnessed would not be forgotten by Mohammedan Sporting fans for many years to come.

An overwhelmed Syed Nayeemuddin, who was the captain when Mohammedan Sporting won the Shield in 1971, was right when he said: “This team deserved it. It was long overdue.” Few would disagree with him on this.

TEAMS

Mohammedan Sporting: Luis Barreto (Naseem Akhtar 118), Nirmal Chetri, Luciano Sabrosa, Mehrajuddin Wadoo, R. Dhanarajan, Rakesh Masih, Syed Rahim Nabi, Penn Orji, Manish Maithani, Ishfaq Ahmed (Ashim Biswas 67, Khentang Paite 98), Joshimar.

Dhanmondi Club: Mazharul Islam (Ziaur Rahman 96), Mohammed Lincoln, Didarul Haque, Yeasin Khan, Yeamin Ahmed, Mohammed Nasiruddin, Sohel Rana, Mamun Islam, Sony Nordy, Wedson Anselme, Emeka Darlington (Amisu Abdulahi 115).

Referee: MB Santhosh Kumar