Jakarta: East Bengal stormed into the quarter finals of the ASEAN Club Championship here onWednesday demolishing Army FC of the Philippines 6-0 in their final group D match.
Bhaichung Bhutia put to rest the Doubting Thomases slamming in the first five goals with Mahesh Gawli netting in the other. However, at the post-match press conference, Bhaichung claimed the sixth strike too was his, saying that the ball touched him on its way to the goal.
The star striker’s hattrick was the second by an Indian in international matches at the senior level. Neville D’Souza had struck a hattrick against Australia at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956.
Ajay Singh, however, has a double hattrick to his name in the Asia Cup versus Maldives in Dhaka, but that was at the under-16 level.
East Bengal rested Sasthi Duley, the diminutive midfielder while Dipak Mondal, who received a booking in their opening game, was also not risked a second booking ahead of their quarter final clash.
The Army FC side found it hard to come to terms with their rivals, far superior to them in fitness, stamina and skill. The Philippines team was thus reduced to defending most of the time. East Bengal had to contend with eight, and at times nine players, inside the striking zone. The Filipinos, however, did finally crumble under a barrage of attacks.
Bhaichung was heavily guarded and often found it tough to break free in the initial stages. It was only after the first goal in the 22nd minute off a penalty — following a handball by a Philippines player inside the box — that he seemed to be back in his elements.
Combining well with the hard working Alvito D’Cunha he went on the rampage and netted the second soon after. Bhaichung managed to put it past the goalkeeper from a melee following a corner from the left.
Bhaichung completed his hattrick in the 50th minute and continued his rampage with goals in the 53rd and 70th minutes. The five goals he scored today may well be enough to help him secure the Best Striker award here.
It was only in the 75th minute that East Bengal had another player on the scoresheet when Gawli scored from the top of the box with a firm right footer.
East Bengal were clearly not satisfied with the two goals till the breather and went in search of more. Eduard Sacapano, the Army FC goalkeeper was, however, responsible for denying the Indians on at least a couple of occasions. There was some drama on the pitch when midfielder Douglas Da Silva argued his replacement in the 30th minute.
Not risking a second booking — the Brazilian was shown the yellow in the previous game — coach Subhas Bhowmick had taken him off but Douglas showed his discontent on the field.
He refused to sit in the reserve bench and it was left to an East Bengal official to finally cool his nerves. East Bengal, who are likely to be second behind Sasana in group D, will then meet the group C champions in the quarter final on Monday.
East Bengal: Sandip Nandy, M. Suresh, Suley Musah, Shylo Malsawmtluanga (Kulothungan, 67), Debjit Ghosh, Alvito D’Cunha (Bijen Singh, 76), Bhaichung Bhutia, Douglas Da Silva (Chandan Das, 30), Mahesh Gawli, Sur Kumar Singh, Subhas Chakraborty
Army FC: Eduard Sacapano, Efren Pabilona, Richard Braga (Brendon Morata, 65), Rocky Garciano, Nolan Madali (Richard Betita, 75), Jeoffrey Lobaton, Wilson Dela Cruz, Philip Cesar Caballero (Judy Salura, 55), Billy Estrella, Roel Gener, Allan Palma
Referee: Jimmy Namitupulu