| Captain Dipendu Biswas
Gurgaon: When Bengal goalkeeper Kalyan Chaubey suffered an ankle injury in the 70th minute to be replaced by Abhra Mondal, one thought it could pose problems for Bengal in the tie-breaker. In reality, as it turned out to be, Bengal perhaps didn’t need a custodian under the bar.
After giving a scare to the Bengal defence for most part of the second half and the entire 30 minutes of extra time, Kerala proved to be poor customers in the shoot out as they hit out their first two shots completely wide. That set the motion for a 4-2 Bengal victory in the second semi-final of the Santosh Trophy at the Devi Lal Sports Complex here on Sunday. In the final to be played on Wednesday, Bengal will take on Punjab at 4.45pm.
The wild celebrations that followed in the Bengal bench immediately after Shyam Mondal shot in the fourth goal for his team in the tie-breaker was very much there. After all, these unsung heroes of Prasanta Banerjee’s team have created history by taking Bengal to the final of the National Championships after a gap of six years. The last time Bengal had a feel of the trophy was in 1999 when Bhaichung Bhutia’s boys hammered five goals past Goa in a one-sided final.
Dipendu Biswas, the only player in the present squad, who played in the 1999 final, actually set the tone for Bengal’s win on Sunday. After Kerala’s Rajesh shot wide off the left post, Biswas put Bengal in the lead with a confident shot past goalkeeper Jean Christiana. Once Biswas did it correctly, three more goals followed from Sanjeev Maria, Suman Dutta and Shyam Mondal to end Kerala’s run in the tournament.
In between, Kerala’s Jaseer Karnath shot the second shot off the mark. Lenal Thomas and NP Pradeep tried to make amends by scoring from the third and the fourth shot, but the damage had already been done by that time.
Overall, Bengal should feel lucky to be able to end the regulation as well as the extra time goalless. Given the trend of the match, Bengal were at the receiving end for a major period and could have conceded at least two goals in the extra time. Goalkeeper Mondal came up with a terrific save in the first half of the extra time when he foiled Kerala skipper NP Pradeep inside the six-yard box. That could have easily spelt doom for the 29-time champions.
Bengal’s moment of glory in the stipulated time came only for a brief period in the first half. The highly vociferous and drum beating fans of Kerala cheered their team from the very first minute, but it was Bengal who took charge. While Sanjeev Maria did a splendid job in defence, Tapan Maity did great work in keeping Pradeep off colour on the right. It broke Kerala’s backbone in the midfield.
But Bengal’s problems were different. Their strikers looked matured, but the midfield was content to pay the spoilers’ role. They could never build up the attacks and it allowed Kerala to make a comeback in the second half. The Kerala supporters, who were rooting for their team in the stands, were seen running around the ground with posters and banners. As Bengal were struggling to hold on, Kerala looked like scoring at any moment. But it was not to be as Bengal defence managed to drag the match to the tie-breaker. 5
In the first semi-final, Punjab made a strong second-half comeback to defeat Maharashtra 2-1 in a rather drab encounter. Maharashtra took the lead a minute before the half time through Abhishek Yadav, who capitalised on a pass from Paresh Shivalkar. Punjab, who always held the upper hand, finally came good with the equaliser through Baldeep Singh in the 66th minute. Six minutes later, international Praveen Kumar struck the winning goal.
Bengal: Kalyan Chaubey (Abhra Mondal, 70th); Habibur Rehman, Shyam Mondal, Sanjeev Maria and Bijoy Basfore (Saumik Dey, 46th); Tapan Maity, Avinash Thapa, Suman Dutta and Asim Das (Gauranga Dutta, 104th); Syed Rahim Nabi and Dipendu Biswas.
Kerala: Jean Christian; Dhanarajan, Abdul Basheer, Jaseer Karnath and Joby KS; NP Pradeep, Lenal Thomas, Rajesh and Abdul Naushad; Asif Saheer (Anil Kumar, 102th) and Abdul Hakeem (Mohammed Aslam, 67th).
Following is the sequence of the penalties taken in the Bengal vs Kerala semi-final shootout:
• Rajesh shoots out, Dipendu scores; Bengal 1-0
• Jaseer Karnath shoots out, Sanjeev Maria scores; Bengal 2-0
• Lenal Thomas scores, Suman Dutta scores; Bengal 3-1
• NP Pradeep scores, Shyam Mondal scores; Bengal win 4-2