| East Bengal ’keeper Sandip Nandy, named the best in the meet, rises above teammate Suley Musah and Jatupong Thongsukh for a collection in Jakarta on Saturday
Jakarta, July 26 (PTI): East Bengal emerged worthy winners on Saturday when they beat AFC Champions League finalists BEC Tero Sasana of Thailand 3-1 in the final of the ASEAN Club Championship. The Calcutta team became the first Indian club to win a notable international tournament.
The emphatic victory not only added $50,000 to the club’s booty, it was also sweet revenge for the Indians who had lost 0-1 to the Thais in the league phase.
Leading by a 28th-minute Mike Okoro goal at the break, East Bengal stretched their lead to 2-0 with Bhaichung Bhutia taking his tournament tally to nine in the 48th minute. Alvito D’Cunha sealed the issue in the 69th minute after the Thais tried a comeback through a goal by Panai Kongpaphan in the 58th minute.
Bhutia, Man of the Match, continued with his rich form and ended the tournament on a high with his solo effort which put the Thais firmly on the backfoot even as they were trying hard to nullify Okoro’s strike.
On a quick counterattack, Bhutia snatched the ball from Thanongsak Pajakkta after a one-on-one battle. He went inside the box, pulled the goalkeeper out of position, and regaining his step after a slip, found the net with a firm left-footer.
The stadium once again turned out to be a lucky venue for Indian soccer, where India had won the Jakarta Asian Games football gold in 1962.
The teams began with a couple of raids on either end with Therdsak Chaiman, Most Valuable Player of the Tournament, and Okoro caught in the offside trap in the early minutes of the match.
Even as Sasana looked like taking control with greater ball possession and raids into the East Bengal defensive area, the Calcuttans came back with some set-piece moves that unsettled the Thais. East Bengal went into the lead through a snap goal which totally caught the Thais off guard. Lurking near the danger area, Okoro latched on to a pass from Douglas da Silva. Wriggling for space between two defenders, Okoro found the target with a powerful right-footer.
Returning from an injury and repaying coach Subhas Bhowmick’s faith in him, Okoro then ran to the sidelines and did a Bebeto style cradling (he had a baby just the other day). Others soon joined him in the celebration.
Rattled, the Thais began the second session determined to make amends. But Bhutia had other ideas. Three minutes into the half he had put his team 2-0 ahead. Five minutes later his team got a fine chance to increase the lead when Douglas put Bijen Singh through, but the latter’s effort went just wide of the target.
The Thais replaced Sunday Omojola with Wuttiya Yongant. The move paid off as the substitute combined with Kongpaphan to pull his team back into the match with 32 minutes of play left.
Tero Sasana, who upset Asia’s star clubs en route to the AFC Champions League final, were now really on the boil and tried to even the contest. Chaiman came close in the very next minute, but after surviving the onslaught for the next ten minutes D’Cunha left his indelible stamp on the final scoring with a thundering right-footer from just outside the box.
Receiving the ball on his left leg, following a quick sally by Surkumar through the right, he quickly changed the ball to his right and blasted home giving no chance to ’keeper Phansa Meesattham.
East Bengal — Sandip Nandy; Dipak Mondal (Shylo Malsawmtluanga, 82), M. Suresh, Suley Musah; Douglas da Silva, Sasthi Duley, Surkumar Singh, Alvito D’Cunha, Bijen Singh; Mike Okoro, Bhaichung Bhutia.