| Striking duo: Dipendu and Nabi
New Delhi: Mohammedan Sporting’s long wait is over. They made their maiden entry into the premier division of the National Football League (NFL) on Tuesday, with a 2-1 win over State Bank of Travancore (SBT) here on the concluding day of the 2nd division NFL, final round.
Joining Mohammedan Sporting in the 8th NFL next season are Haywards Sporting, Goa who beat Air India 3-0.
For the Calcutta club, Dipendu Biswas and Syed Rahim Nabi scored in the 50th and 62nd minutes, respectively. Haywards struck through Amaechi Tochokwu (23rd & 51st) and stopper back Vincent Pires (71st).
With these victories, Mohammedan Sporting and Haywards Sporting topped their round robin league with seven points apiece from three matches. In fact, with a goal difference of plus six, the Goa club finished ahead of the Calcutta giants, who managed a goal difference of plus two.
The other two teams which had been in the fray for the two premier division slots, SBT and Air India, are doomed to spend another year in the second division. SBT finished on three points while Air India lost all their matches.
However, Haywards success is tinged with the uncertainty of the Goa Football Association’s reaction to the protest lodged against them for registering three players on loan. In case they get disqualified, SBT will move up.
At the Chattrasal Stadium, Mohammedan Sporting coach Mohammed Habeeb gambled with Arunava Sarkar to strengthen his midfield. Sarkar, recovering from an injury, was rusty and missed a sitter in the 34th minute. Put through by Syed Rahim Nabi’s angular pass, he shot into the SBT custodian, P. V. H. Rehman.
Highly motivated and cohesive, Mohammedan Sporting were on the rampage throughout. In the 38th minute, following a corner kick, Nabi’s header seemed to be floating into the goal but Habib Adekunle handled the ball trying to steer it into the net.
In a sudden counter attack, SBT got a corner kick in the 42nd minute. Midfielder Kabeer’s far post cross was firmly headed by an unchallenged stopper back M. Abdul Basheer.
In the second half, Mohammedan Sporting played with renewed vigour and scored twice in a span of twelve minutes. In the 50th minute, SBT defender Vinu Jose handled a bouncing ball under pressure. Biswas converted the penalty kick with aplomb. In the 62nd minute, Nabi latched onto Biswas’ through pass and evaded two defenders before scoring with a neat placement.
An emotional Habeeb later said: “Our dream was fulfilled today. The club has been trying for seven years to qualify. We were tense before this match but the players rose to the occasion. We now hope to get sponsors and build up a good team for the next season.”
Other club officials said efforts would be made to get four quality foreigners, with Iraq and Iran among the target areas.
Mohammedan Sporting: Imran Khan, Reazul Mustafa, Habib Adekunle, Hussein Mustafi (captain), Amandeep Singh, Eugene Grey, Shahnawaz Iqbal Khan, Arunava Sarkar (L. Akbar Singh 43), Syed Rahim Nabi, Dipendu Biswas (Amjad Ansari 86), Awal Ibrahim (Arjan Ali 31).
SBT: . V. H. Rehman, Vinu Jose, M. Abdul Basheer, V. Shivakumar (captain, Paul Anthony 36), K. Ajayan, K.M. Abdul Naushad, T. Shabir Ali (M. Lanel Thomas 64), M. A. Abdul Hakeem, S. Ignatius (P. Sanushraj 74), N.P. Pradeep.
Referee: Ravi Shankar (Delhi).