Seventy two years ago, they played the first Santosh Trophy final. It was Bengal five and Delhi one in Calcutta in 1941. On Sunday, Bengal, which has won the national championship a record 31 times, was forced to sweat for a lone-goal victory over Delhi in the 67th Santosh Trophy at the Nehru Stadium here.
And the 84th match-winner, which took Bengal to the quarterfinal league along with Railways, was scored by the baby of the team, the 21-year-old Navin Hela who was making his Santosh Trophy debut on the day.
“It was fantastic, a great feeling,” said Navin, who currently plays for the Bhavinipur Club, after the match. “I had played for East Bengal in the junior national league earlier.”
Truly, it was a memorable moment for Navin Hela who had only come in as a substitute some 15 minutes earlier. And the goal had some drama to it. Francis Xavier tore down the right flank and sent a low, curving cross to Hela. The Delhi goalkeeper Vikrant Sharma charged out, sensing danger but Hela was the first to the ball and fired into the open net.
With that cross, Francis Xavier also made amends for his poor finish a few minutes earlier. He had raced down the right impressively, only to mess up the endplay after losing his balance a bit. But that was the case for the major part of the game.
Despite its brilliant record in the Santosh Trophy, Bengal had little to show for it in its Group ‘A’ opener.
Anticipating a quality game, the turnout had been a little better than the past two days here but there was only disappointment for Bengal’s fans in this scrappy encounter.
Despite a steady stream of crosses, from Snehashish Dutta from the left and MD Muktar from the right, there was nothing to show for them on the scoreboard. The shooting was slow and often substandard. Hela had sent one wide a little after his arrival and just before that, he failed to trap Snehashish’s cross properly, messing up another chance. And a few minutes earlier, former Indian star Dipendu Biswas, the team’s captain and senior-most player at 32, sent Dipak’s promising cross wide. However, Dipendu had come up with a very promising longranger from the left which narrowly missed the target. Things were not very different at the other end. Delhi did not create many convincing chances but early in the game, Yogesh Prasad’s kick beat the Bengal goalkeeper Arnab Das Sharma but a defender rushed in and did the rescue act. And in the 24th, Dheeraj Singh’s attempt rebounded off the goalkeeper’s hands.
Bengal and Railway will now fight for the top place in the group while Delhi made its exit with two losses in the three-team group.
The result (qualifying round I, Group A): West Bengal 1 (Navin Hela 84th minute) bt Delhi 0. Monday’s match: Haryana v Goa (qualifying round I, Group D).