| Mahindra United’s James Singh (right) tries to get past an Air India player during their Federation Cup quarter final match at Howrah Stadium on Saturday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh
Calcutta, Aug. 2: Mahindra entered the semi-finals of the Tata Federation Cup — where they are expected to meet East Bengal — when they beat a hapless Air India 3-0 at the Howrah Municipal Stadium on Saturday.
In a match where many sitters were missed, ex-Mohun Bagan star James Singh, Shanmugam Venkatesh and Raphael R. Akakpo scored.
The ground was decent, for a change, and pity a decent level of soccer was not on show. The 7,000-odd crowd cheered every move, wayward or otherwise. There were plenty of misses, mostly by Mahindra, some by Air India, but the energy and urge was not there.
Akakpo was a culprit, missing with aplomb balls that were difficult to, and so was Venkatesh. They made amends late, but not before Air India had carried some of their challenges to the rival defence zone.
Mahindra went ahead in the 45th minute of the match when James quickly headed home a lobbed pass from the right from Jules Alberto. The Air India defence simply failed to react.
In the 59th minute Air India’s Suprith Jathanna was five yards from the rival goal. The defence looked phased out, hardly reacting, and even goalkeeper Sunder Rajan was out of charge. How Jathanna managed to shoot out from there remains a mystery. A difficult feat to perform.
Mahindra moved ahead further in the 66th minute. James sprinted up the right and sent a grounder of a centred to the goalmouth. With the Air India defence remaining as inert, it was easy for Venkatesh to shot home from close, making amends for a rather clumsy miss earlier in the match.
Mahindra sealed Air India’s fate in the 86th minute when it was time for Akakpo from Togo — who has played in the Malaysian League in 1999 as part of the Brunei national team (Brunei, said Akakpo, allows three foreigners in their national team for non-Fifa meets) — to make amends for his earlier lapse. He collected a loose ball at the rival goalmouth and took it up on a fine solo effort before slotting it home, past a wrongfooted Air India goalkeeper Raju Ekka.
Mahindra United: Sunder Rajan, Lawson Odartey, Sanjay Parte, Arun Malhotra, Covan Lawrence (Jinto Jose, 71), Rauf Khan, Jules Alberto, Shanmugam Venkatesh (Abhishek Yadav, 80), Khalid Jameel, James Singh, Raphael R. Akakpo.
Air India: Raju Ekka, Santosh Kuli (Appa Rao, 89), Tsenoy Kuruvilla, Santa Singh, Uttam Singh, Md Rizwan, Vijith Shetty, Khambiton Singh, M.KI. Binoop, Anthony Fernandes, Suprith Jathanna (Paresh Shhivalkar, 68).
Referee: Subrata Sarkar (Bengal).