‘Must win’ was the specific task. And Mahindra United accomplished the goal with a 2-0 win in Group IV against East Bengal to move into the semi-finals of the Durand Cup here on Friday. The Mumbai team made it on better goal average after finishing with four points, the same as Lajong FC from Shillong.
JCT faced a task similar to Mahindra United but came a cropper against Mohun Bagan in a Group II match. The 2-0 win carried Mohun Bagan into the semi-finals where it meets Mahindra on Sunday.
Mahindra took time to settle but not Bagan. Mahindra scored in the 62nd and 65th minute through Mohammad Rafi’s opportunism. Mohun Bagan was two goals ahead in mere 15 minutes, both strikes coming from the irrepressible Brazilian, Jose Ramirez Baretto.
There was a marked difference in the approach the two Kolkata teams demonstrated. East Bengal was subdued and outclassed; Mohun Bagan did not allow the opposition any time to plan tactics. But JCT did not surrender as meekly as East Bengal.
JCT fought even when down 0-2. Like the strong header from Baljeet Singh (Jr). The move had a goal written all over but Mohun Bagan goalkeeper Sangram Mukherjee had a different script in mind and came up with a sensational save.
The goals by Baretto carried the Brazilian’s trademark finish. The first time he craftily trapped the ball from a free kick and flicked it inside in a flash. And then he worked in tandem with Edeh Chidi, who headed the ball and out to Baretto on course. The JCT goalkeeper charged out, a defender moved to guard the goal, but Baretto, studying the situation, stayed on course. He coolly placed it into the corner and a celebratory jig signalled a job well done. Baretto soon left the pitch after having done his job well.
Soon, Chidi found himself in a situation that had confronted Baretto. But he delayed, fumbled and short wide. JCT was under siege. A penalty earned by Bagan in the 38th minute was saved by goalkeeper Karanjit Singh, who anticipated well to block James Singh’s push on his right.
Touching a new low
East Bengal touched a new low by losing the first four matches of the season, evoking terse remarks from some die-hard fans at the Ambedkar Stadium, The target was coach Subhash Bhowmick, lambasted by the fans for messing it up all the way.
Bhowmick was paying dearly for miscalculating the substance his hand-picked players possessed. The starting line up showed six changes but the desperate move hardly helped East Bengal salvage its reputation. It was blown away by an opposition that clearly had done its homework well.
The trend was set as early as the third minute when Kazhi Alauddin rattled East Bengal with a header that was saved by goalkeeper Arup Debnath. Soon came a Sushil Singh header. East Bengal remained a spectator the entire half. The second session was no different.
It was a splendid move set in motion by Sushant Mathew, who landed the ball at Steven Dias’ feet with a precise long ball. Dias in turn floated it into the box and Rafi headed in strongly. Three minutes later Rafi fired in a rebound. East Bengal’s cup of woes was complete as it made an inglorious exit, a crestfallen Bhowmick presenting a sad sight.