EB miss chances galore
Calcutta: East Bengal and Neroca FC's hopes started fading after the first quarter itself when in Panchkula, Minerva Punjab FC took the lead against Churchill Brothers through William Opoku's 15th-minute strike.
And they ensured they maintained the lead to win their maiden I-League title in just their second season, shattering the hopes of East Bengal and Neroca as well as that of Mohun Bagan on Thursday.
The other three teams didn't help themselves either in their final match of this edition. East Bengal squandered a flurry of chances to draw 1-1 with Neroca here at the Salt Lake Stadium, while Bagan too did the same in Kozhikode against Gokulam Kerala FC, failing to hold on to their 1-0 lead.
One can only feel for Neroca as they certainly made all attempts to win the title on debut. They comprised mostly players from Manipur and played within their limitations to finish a creditable second. While the big-budget, high-profile teams ended below them - Mohun Bagan third and East Bengal fourth.
Yes, the numerous chances East Bengal muffed up in the first half did help Neroca, but they have to be applauded for their brave, stout defending despite repeated attacks by Mahmoud Al Amna and Dudu Omagbemi.
The lone occasion they faltered was in the 73rd minute when Dudu headed home Lalram Chullova's cross to equalise. In other words, Dudu's brilliance and sense of positioning was the factor in that case.
Neroca, precisely, had just one real chance in the entire game and they made full use of it. Towards the end of the first half, Nicholas Ward sent a through ball for Felix Chidi and the latter foxed Arnab Mondal with an inside dodge before smartly slotting in a left footer past the advancing goalie.
It was just like rubbing salt into East Bengal's wounds, as they missed some three-four sitters prior to conceding.
Interestingly, Neroca were aware that Minerva had taken control in Panchkula, but that hardly seemed to affect their performance. Their focus was only on winning the game they were part of.
"It's been an incredible journey for us. I am a young coach and we are a young team. I needed players who are young and willing to try hard and win matches for their side. I am really very happy with how my players reacted. We'll definitely enjoy this success," coach Gift Raikhan said.
For East Bengal, who went into this game ringing in six changes from the team that played in Shillong, they were left only to rue the mistakes they made in their previous matches. Had Minerva not won, East Bengal would have again be cursing themselves for the simplest of opportunities they missed in this final game as well.
Even Dudu and Al Amna were party to it on the final day of the league, with Jobby Justin blasting the ball way over the horizontal despite having an open goal before him.
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