The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bengal champions in Ballia

Calcutta: Aloke Mukherjee wanted his senior players to deliver when it mattered most. He also wanted his captain Ashim Biswas to take that extra bit of responsibility in the last hurdle of the under-21 national football tournament in Ballia, Uttar Pradesh.

For the Bengal coach, the story unfolded just as he would have liked to script it. In the final on Monday, his side got the better of Services 2-1 to emerge deserved champions.

Such was the domination of Ashim and his boys that Services were left clueless, particularly in the second half. Ashim put his team ahead and set up the other inside 12 minutes of the second session before Services managed a reducer five minutes from the final whistle.

“All credit to my boys. They really delivered at a crucial time. Satish Kumar, Palash Karmakar… all played exceptionally well. And there was Ashim… he simply butchered the opponents in the second half,” Aloke said after the match when contacted by The Telegraph at the team hotel.

“The scoreline did not tell the actual story. We missed too many chances towards the end otherwise we could have easily ended up with something like a 5-1 or 6-1 verdict,” the Bengal coach added.

The final kicked off on a cautious note as both teams adopted a wait-and-watch policy. The simmering heat (it was plus 40 degree Celsius, according to Aloke) also played a role in the teams’ apparent strategy of going through the motions in the beginning.

Goalkeeper Satish effected a nice diving save midway through the first half as Bengal decided to stay within their zone, by and large. Later, Aloke revealed he did not want his players to sweat too much and thus relied more on counter-attacks during the first session.

After the breather, however, it was a transformed Bengal who took the field and the breakthrough came within four minutes. Ashim chased a loose ball following a lapse on the part of the Services rearguard and coolly nudged home from close to record his fifth goal of the tournament.

The goal seemed to be the harbinger of Bengal’s rejuvenation and they scored their second within eight minutes. The Bengal captain was at his devastating best. He got hold of a ball near the halfline, steered clear of a couple of Services players before starting his run down the left flank. His superb solo run continued as he again dodged past a couple of defenders and drew the goalkeeper towards the left corner of the box.

The India forward then fed Sanjib Mishra with a square pass and the latter rushed in to slot the ball into an open net.

“The second goal was more satisfying since it simply devastated Services,” Ashim said. “It was always satisfying in contributing to the team’s success. I’m happy that I made an impact on the final,” the diminutive striker said.

Chances fell Bengal’s way thereafter, with Palash Karmakar hitting the horizontal and Ashim failing to strike home with only the goalkeeper at his mercy.

According to Aloke, Bengal conceded the goal when a Services defender beat Satish Bharti out of a melee following a cross from the right.

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