|Ryuji Sueoka effects a spectacular back-volley against Mumbai FC, on Wednesday. Picture by Gautam Bose
Calcutta: It was almost as if one was watching two different matches at the Salt Lake Stadium on Wednesday — the two halves of the East Bengal versus Mumbai FC I-League encounter were so different.
After a rather facile first half, the match came surprisingly alive in the second with no less than four goals being scored. Honours even, East Bengal and Mumbai FC played out a 2-2 draw. But what made the draw different from the others of the League were the quality of the goals scored — specially Yusif Yakubu and Ryuji Sueoka’s first goal. Sueoka scored both for East Bengal, while Ashutosh Mehta drew level in the dying minutes.
In the 60th minute, it was the veteran Yakubu who made a mark and reminded all present about his real worth. The goal would have been considered a gem at any level of football and both coaches — Armando Colaco and Khalid Jamil — termed it as the best goal of this I-League.
Yakubu almost read the minds of his opponents as he made his way past the centre circle with the ball. Only the defenders would be able to say what was going through their mind as they gave the seasoned forward all the space he needed.
And even an experienced goalkeeper like Abhijit Mondal failed to anticipate what Yakubu would do. As Mondal advanced expecting to cut off Yakubu and narrow down the angle, the 37-year-old Ghanaian did what no one expected him to.
His aerial shot from almost 45 yards lobbed over the goalkeeper and nestled into the right corner of the goal. The stunner even saw Colaco applauding from the sidelines.
But Mumbai FC’s joy was short-lived. Japanese Ryuji Sueoka, who has not really been in the best of form lately and did not start in this match, took it upon himself to prove that he is worth every penny East Bengal are spending on him.
Two goals within a span of two minutes — and East Bengal were within sniffing distance of three valuable points and an elusive back-to-back victory.
The first goal came off a back volley in the 64th minute. Lalrindika Ralte’s shot found Sueoka in a rather crowded Mumbai FC box, and the 34-year-old showed exactly how agile he could be.
Perhaps unexpected, the back volley left the Mumbai FC defenders with no chance and a hapless Kunal Sawant could only react by retrieving the ball from inside the goal.
Then, as if just to drive home a point, Sueoka struck again. This time, it was a stellar pass from Abhisek Das and, on the half turn, Sueoka made perfect contact and East Bengal were up 2-1.
Just as the handful of East Bengal supporters present were getting ready to celebrate a victory, Mumbai FC’s Ashutosh showed that he had very different plans.
With the East Bengal defence hardly knowing what they were up to, Ashutosh advanced down the right flank and with no one posing any challenge, he essayed a smooth right footer that brought about the equaliser in the 87 th minute.
With this draw, East Bengal are still struggling at the seventh spot with 28 points from 18 matches. Mumbai FC, on the other hand, are continuing their struggle to stave off relegation, languishing at 11th spot with 21 points from 20.
East Bengal: Abhijit Mondal, Abhishek Das, Arnab Mondal, Raju Gaikwad, Robert Lalthlamuana, Resangmi Vashum (Ryuji Sueoka, 50), Harmanjot Khabra, Cavin Lobo (Baljit Singh Sahni, 89), Joaquim Abranches, Edeh Chidi, Seiminlen Doungal (Lalrindika Ralte, 57).
Mumbai FC: Kunal Sawant, Rahul Bheke, Ebi Sukore (Khelemba Meitei, 83), Anwar Ali, Jayesh Rane, Alfred Jaryan (N P Pradeep, 77), Ashutosh Mehta, Sehnaj Singh, Sandesh Jhingan, Mohammed Rafi (Ahmad Arash Hatife, 40), Yusif Yakubu.
Man of the Match: Ryuji Sueoka
Referee: Anthony Simoes