Jakarta: The off-field scenario had long been anticipated by East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick — the stadium wearing a purple look, with thousands of raucous supporters, with drums and devotion, cheering for the home team.
What unfolded onfield, however, was highly unpredictable. Off a very eventful match, East Bengal entered the semi-finals of the ASEAN Club Championship here on Monday, beating local team Persita Tangerang 2-1.
Events surprised the pre-match hype and hoopla and nearly turned the quarter final encounter into a tragedy for the Indian champions.
First came Debjit Ghosh’s fall, off a sudden knock to the back of his head in an aerial tussle. That resulted in a concussion and a loss of consciousness. The central midfielder had to be stretchered off and taken off to hospital in an ambulance.
Then Singaporean referee Marian Ganeshan took centrestage. His dreadful decision of awarding a penalty in favour of the Indonesian runners-up negated East Bengal’s 54th minute lead through Bhaichung Bhutia.
However the sense of relief came in the end. When Bijen Singh, who replaced an off-colour Alvito D’Cunha, headed home the 74th minute winner, it appeared to have brought about the essence of the drama — the good prevailing over the evil.
For East Bengal, an invitational side in the tournament, the horizon of making a mark beyond the Indian sky is well visible now and Bhowmick is all focussed on what is achievable too. By reaching the last-four stage, East Bengal have already got themselves in the prize zone. They will now take on another Indonesian outfit and local league champions Petrokimia Putra for a place in the title-decider on Thursday.
The way Persita came back in the game could have been interpreted more than just an error in judgement on Ganeshan’s part.
Nine minutes into second half, Douglas da Silva, on the overlap, sent in a long, deft cross from the left and Bhaichung outjumped his marker to head home his sixth goal of the tournament.
If it was a twist to an anticipated script for the boisterous home crowd, it came in for a more dramatic turn after ten minutes. East Bengal goalkeeper Sandip Nandy came out of his line and denied a Persita attacker by blocking the ball with hands. Sandip had absolutely no contact with the Indonesian player while claiming the ball and yet the match supervisor, in his limitless obtuse wisdom, pointed towards the penalty spot.
Protests from East Bengal players fell on deaf ears and culminated in Bhaichung being cautioned and Ilham Jayakesuma converting the kick to level the score. The setback temporarily took the steam out of East Bengal’s power as Persita tightened their noose around the red-and-gold brigade at that time and it really put East Bengal players to a test of nerve and character before Bijen brought justice to their cause.
Sur Kumar Singh, who had a terrific outing as a right half, flung a measured cross in the far end and Bijen timed his jump to perfection to hand his team a deserved win.
Two golden opportunities fell Bhaichung’s way in the closing stages, but the tournament’s top-scorer reacted late to them.
Earlier, tactic prevailed over attacking pyrotechnics for both teams. Bhowmick put up a second shield of defence with Douglas, Debjit and Suley Musah — ahead of his trusted trio in the backline — Mahesh Gawli, Dipak Mondal, M. Suresh. Sasthi Duley, back in action, gave Bhowmick the option of having Musah operate down the right.
Happy at the team’s move into semi-finals, Bhowmick later said: “I’m now looking forward to the match versus Petrokimia. It’ll be a good match to watch”. He, however, expressed his disappointment, saying that “the referee did not call the medic early enough to attend to Debjit”.
East Bengal: Sandip Nandy; M. Suresh, Dipak Mondal, Mahesh Gawli; Sasthi Duley, Douglas da Silva, Debjit Ghosh (Shylo Malsawmtluanga, 35), Suley Musah, Sur Kumar Singh; Alvito D’Cunha (Bijen Singh, 66), Bhaichung Bhutia.