| East Bengal’s Mike Okoro beats two Dempo players to the ball during their Durand Cup game in New Delhi on Thursday. Picture by Rajesh Kumar
New Delhi: East Bengal overcame stiff resistance from Dempo SC of Goa to enter the semi-finals of the 116th Durand Cup .
In Thursday’s Group B league match, East Bengal survived sustained pressure to emerge 3-0 winners. The scoreline suggests a comfortable win, but in reality East Bengal struggled forvictory, with goals by Mike Okoro (50), S.Malswamtluanga (81) and K. Kulothungan (89).
East Bengal thus entered the semis as group winners with six points from two matches. The semi-finals proved to be a bridge too far for the other Goa club as well. Vasco SC were held 1-1 by Air India of Mumbai.
As Sasthi Duley had not recovered from his shoulder injury East Bengal altered their formation from 3-5-2 to a conventional 4-4-2. Sur Kumar Singh played as right back and Surya Bikash Chakraborty as left back.
In the first half, East Bengal played possession football. Kulothungan played as an attacking central midfielder and Sur Kumar overlapped occasionally.
Early in the second, Kulothungan started inter-changing positions with Malswamtluanga. This foxed the Dempo defence and led to the first goal. Kultothungan’s measured cross was powerfully headed in by Okoro.
In the 53rd minute, Seah earned a penalty kick. Though referee Arjunan adjudged he was brought down by Mahesh Gawli, it seemed Seah had dived. Prakash shot wide of the right post. Dempo pushed men forward and applied pressure. Valerino Rebello and R.C. Prakash shot out from close.
Bhowmick introduced Subashish Roy Chowdhury in place of a limping Okoro to stem the flow of attacks. On the counter, East Bengal scored in the 81st minute. Subash Chakraborty sped down the left and crossed to Bhaichung who turned away from his marker Majesk Bolaji and sent a diagonal pass to Malswamtluanga on the right who side-footed into the net.
Eight minutes later Sur Kumar intercepted a Dempo attack near the centre line , moved forward and fed Malswamtluanga who cut in and sent an ankle-high reverse pass to Kulothungan who volleyed in.
Later, Bhowmick slammed Arjunan’s refereeing. “The refereeing was bad and inconsistent. The penalty kick against us shouldn’t have been awarded as Seah had dived. The referee was needlessly liberal towards Dempo. When Satish Kumar came charging out of the goal and attacked Bhaichung he went scot-free but Kulothungan was shown a yellow card for delaying in stepping back during a free-kick.”
East Bengal: Sangram Mukherjee, Sur Kumar Singh, Suley Musah (Capt.), Mahesh gawli and Surya Bikash Chakraborty, Subash Chakraborty, Debjit Ghosh, Kalia Kulothungan, Alvito D'Cunha (S. Malswamtluanga 31), Bhaichung Bhutia and Mike Okoro (Subashish Roy Chowdhury 75).
Dempo SC: Satish Kumar, Valerino Rebello, Stanley Colaco, Majek Bolaji and Melwyn Rodriguez, Jose Colaco, Mario Soares, Raju Singh, Savio Mascarenhas (Wilton Gomes 51), Sunday Seah and R.C. Prakash (Alex Ambrose 78).
Referee: A. Arjunan (Services)
Vasco, Air India draw
Needing a win to qualify, Vasco scored in the 12th minute, when medio Denis Cabral lobbed over ’keeper Raju Ekka. Air India equalised in the 55th. The Vasco back four misjudged Naushad Moosa’s long throw from the left and Suprith Jathana headed in.
Both teams finished on four points and a similar goal difference of plus one. However Air India progressed as they scored three goals compared to Vasco’s two.
Friday’s semi-final: Mahindra United vs Salgaocar