|East Bengal coach Armando Colaco (picture left) and
Man of the Match Lalrindika Ralte are all smiles after their victory, at the Salt Lake Stadium, on Sunday.
A dejected Mohun Bagan captain Okolie Odafe
at the end of the match. Telegraph pictures
Calcutta: If practice makes a man perfect, it has already earned Lalrindika Ralte something close to perfection as far as taking long-rangers are concerned.
Ralte’s superb 30-yard left-footer at the Salt Lake Stadium, on Sunday, did not only light up East Bengal’s I-League campaign, it lit up thousands of faces with the brightness that’s unique to this part of the world… The glow of happiness that one can find in the faces of victorious team’s fans after a city Derby was for the Kingfisher East Bengal fans to cherish on the day. Thanks to Ralte, thanks to his world-class goal.
Ralte makes sure he practises taking long-rangers on a regular basis. That his hard work didn’t go in vain was proved, once again, on Sunday as East Bengal emerged 1-0 winners over arch-rivals McDowell Mohun Bagan in the season’s first Derby.
One may say that the strike was very much against the run of play and not often do such long-range efforts find the desired target in Indian football. But if it’s Ralte, you better believe that the youngster is an exception. He deserves all the credit for coming up with an extraordinary piece of work in such a pressure-cooker situation.
So, precisely, Ralte’s 73rd-minute stunner was what separated the two teams on the day.
Till the goal, it was Mohun Bagan who looked the better of the two sides, even if marginally, as they focused on playing within their limitations.
But as Denson Devadas delayed in going for a tackle, which could have won him the ball back from Ralte, little did the Bagan midfielder realise what would follow.
Ralte was a good 30 yards away from the target when Harmanjyot Singh Khabra set him up for a crack. Banking on his instincts, the 21-year-old unleashed a pile-driver that bulged into the net as Bagan ’keeper Shilton Paul’s desperate drive bore no fruit.
In other words, Shilton, who did a fairly decent job under the bar, stood dumbfounded, as did the rest of his teammates and thousands of Bagan fans. The red-and-gold supporters, as expected, were delirious.
Prior to that unbelievable strike, things weren’t looking that good for East Bengal. Bagan’s ace striker Okolie Odafe was beginning to look dangerous, while East Bengal captain Mehtab Hussain injured his knee trying to check the former. Mehtab had to be carried off the field.
But Ralte stood up and ensured the occasion belonged to East Bengal. Not only the players, officials and fans, the victory meant a lot for new coach Armando Colaco as well. His spontaneous celebration after the match left no one in any doubt about that.
As for Bagan, they will certainly be disappointed with the loss. Coach Karim Bencharifa, though, has some positives to take home. Topping the list is the performance of side-backs Pritam Kotal and Shouvik Ghosh, as both of them did a decent enough job.
Pritam even went on the overlap once and sent in a wonderful floater for Odafe 15 minutes after the breather. To be fair, the Bagan defence, despite the absence of Aniyichie Echezona, looked more organised than that of East Bengal.
They were efficient enough to make sure the crosses from the rival players got cleared or didn’t fall in place. Central defenders Aiborlang Khongjee and Rowilson Rodrigues played their part in keeping Edeh Chidi at bay, as Colaco’s treasured passing football appeared to be going for a toss.
Bagan could have taken the lead as early as the sixth minute when Odafe, operating from a little deep, set Eric Muranda up with a superb through ball. An advancing Abhijit, however, rescued his team with a brilliant save.
The East Bengal defence looked shaky for most parts of the match and Odafe, moving up in the second session, came perilously close to breaking the deadlock. After Uga Okpara lost the ball, Odafe did brilliantly to evade Arnab Mondal and Mehtab. But again, his attempt from such a close range failed to beat Abhijit.
It wasn’t Bagan’s day. It was East Bengal’s… It was Ralte’s.
East Bengal: Abhijit Mondal, Naoba Singh, Arnab Mondal, Uga Okpara, Saumik Dey, Cavin Lobo (James Moga 65), Mehtab Hossein (Shylo Malsawamtluanga 73), Harmanjot Singh Khabra, Lalrindika Ralte, Chidi Edeh, Ryuji Sueoka (Gurwinder Singh 91).
Mohun Bagan: Shilton Paul, Pritam Kotal, Aiborlang Khongjee, Rowilson Rodrigues (Manish Bhargav 92), Souvik Ghosh, Denson Devadas, Katsumi Yusa, CS Sabeeth (Ram Malik 64), Eric Muranda (Shankar Oraon 83), Okolie Odafe.
Referee: Pratap Singh
MoM: Lalrindika Ralte