History will say East Bengal of India beat Thailandís BEC Tero Sasana 3-1 in Saturdayís Asean Club Championship final. It will also record that the victory made East Bengal richer by $50,000. What it will not say is this triumph made Indian football richer by much more ó it handed the sport the lifeline it was desperately seeking.
It was a victory of grit, fierce self-belief and strategy. East Bengal had started preparing for this at least a month ago, knowing that they stood a decent chance in this tournament featuring clubs from Southeast Asia. What the special invitee didnít, perhaps, believe is it would outclass a club that is quite a heavyweight in Asian football these days.
Most stunning was the ease with which East Bengal dismissed the Thai champions who have reached the Asian Champions League final, beating crack teams from South Korea, Japan and China. Having overcome these Asian giants, Tero Sasana couldnít possibly believe it would be slapped on the face by a team it had beaten earlier in the tournament.
Arrogance marked East Bengalís performance. Shrugging off the cautious approach in previous games, East Bengal came out with a devil-may-care attitude. Many expected the Indians to be defensive after the first goal by Mike Okoro, but Bhaichung Bhutiaís urge to make a mark at the Asian level put East Bengal 2-0 up shortly after half time.
The determination of this team and its hunger to touch the trophy became evident when Alvito DíCunha rifled in the third after Tero Sasana had made it 2-1. This indomitable spirit and scant respect for reputation was the hallmark of East Bengalís triumph.
If one individual deserves credit, it is East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick. He was combative in his playing days and has succeeded in instilling this attitude in his boys. They have dared to dream and stare the rival in the eye. And you need that in good amount to win on foreign soil.
Itís somewhat coincidental that Indiaís last gold in Asian Games football came at the same stadium in Jakarta. Yours truly was part of that team, and it was nostalgic to see the players waving the Tricolour after the match.
But instead of getting nostalgic, we should be pragmatic and make capital of this victory. It proves that India can still be a force in Asia if we work hard and work methodically, with complete focus. It also proves we can dream.
Thank you, East Bengal, thank you Subhas Bhowmick.