| Baganís Jose Ramirez Barreto being challenged by Shamsi Reza of Tollygunge at the Salt Lake Stadium on Wednesday. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Calcutta: Tollygunge Agragami had come to face Mohun Bagan in the National Football League match on Wednesday with a simple formula. Bottle up Jose Ramirez Barreto and your job is more than done.
Coach Krishnendu Roy employed Shamsi Reza behind Mohun Baganís No. 10 and the former ensured that the Brazilian gets hardly any space to manoeuvre. The gap between Reza and Barreto was so minimal that the mercurial playmaker was actually living on the borderline of impatience. It was too much on his equanimity and composure and he finally succumbed to Rezaís pressure, leading to his second yellow card of the tournament. That means Mohun Bagan will take the field against Indian Bank at home on Monday without their most sharpened weapon.
With Barreto lent non-functional, there was no surprise in the outcome of the match ó a predictable goalless draw. But significantly, what the Salt Lake Stadium witnessed on Wednesday could well be the trend in the days to come, and that does not augur well for the green-and-maroon brigade.
Unless Barreto raises the bar of his excellence, unless the others start believing in themselves, Mohun Bagan coach Aloke Mukherjee should be ready for such consequences in the future.
Coming back to the match itself, what a start Mohun Bagan had! Hardeep Gillís shot from inside the penalty box ó though taken rather awkwardly ó kissed the crosspiece in the very first minute. The former champions came close in the first session, but with the luck not running in their favour, the goal eluded the former champions. But once Tollygunge Agragami reinforced the defence and rendered Barreto immobile towards the end of the first session ó that penetration also seemed lacking.
Thanks to a dreadful miscommunication between central defenders Harpreet Singh and Leonardo Monorat de Almeida, Akeem Abolanle almost handed Tollygunge a 21st minute lead. But the Nigerianís header of an Amitava Chanda cross from left, ricocheted off the cross-piece.
That chance apart, Tollygunge concentrated on frustrating Mohun Bagan forwards in their zone.
Still Mohun Bagan managed a couple of opportunities. A delectable side-volley from the new Brazilian signing Eduardo Rebeiro forced a diving save from Tollygunge goalkeeper Chinmoy Banerjee while Ashim Biswas, set up brilliantly by Barreto following a counterattack, could not keep the ball on target.
Eduardo again failed to connect a Manitombi Singh floater from the right in the 28th minute. Then nine minutes from the first half, Ashim was allowed to meet another Manitombi cross inside the box following Tollygunge defender Ebi Bar Barís ill-timed jump. But the Mohun Bagan forward made a complete mess of that chance. With the tension rising, the pressure seemed to have got the better of rationality and intelligence of the Mohun Bagan forwards.
Barreto was blocked and fouled whenever he made any attempt to reach for the ball, while Ashim and Eduardo looked at odds with each other in penetrating the rival defence, creditably manned by two Nigerian defenders ó Isiaka and Bar Bar.
Mehtab Hossain and Hardeep Gill have never been good passers and all that ensured Tollygunge calling the shots in the middle third.
Aloke substituted Rocus Lamare with Basudeb Mondal towards the end, but the diminutive playmaker looked like a pale shadow of his past. Neither Sunil Chhetri nor Babun Kar ó Mohun Baganís other second-half replacements ó made any impact as the former champions listlessly went in search for a breakthrough.
In fact, Akeem on a couple of occasions came close to staging an upset when he caught the rival defence a unawares on counter-attacks, but his hastily-taken shots were not good enough to ensure full points for Tollygunge.
Tollygunge Agragami: Chinmoy Banerjee; Kabijit Khotel, Isiaka Awoyemi, Ebi Bar Bar, Amitava Chanda; Gauranga Dutta, Sandip Das, Shamsi Reza, Amit Das (Manik Barman, 68), Jiten Rai; Akeem Abolanle.
Mohun Bagan: Prashanta Dora; Manitombi Singh (Babun Kar, 59), Harpreet Singh, Leonardo Monorat de Almeida, Palash Karmakar; Mehtab Hossain, Rocus Lamare (Basudeb Mondal, 81), Hardeep Gill (Sunil Chhetri, 68), Jose Ramirez Barreto; Eduardo Rebeiro, Ashim Biswas.
Referee: Manuel Pareira.
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