Special Correspondent

Odafe was a picture of confidence from the start

The contest lacked flair in the first half

NEW DELHI: How to stop Okolie Odafe? For five seasons now, the defenders in Indian football have failed to find an answer. How skillfully he demonstrated his prowess at the Ambedkar Stadium on Saturday Churchill Brothers sank Dempo Sports Club 2-1 to make it to the final of the Durand Cup.

The 6 feet 4 inches powerhouse was in his element all through. He dominated the midfield and moved unchallenged when he had the ball at his feet.

The Nigerian has often played the saviour for his team, this being the third season with Churchill Brothers, but here he also performed the role of a play-maker with élan. He twice rolled the ball nicely for Ogba Kalu but the latter squandered the opportunities.

Odafe scored only the second goal, in the 50th minute, after Charan Rai had opened the account in the 21st minute, but his strike effectively paralyzed Dempo.

The signs were ominous as Odafe was a picture of confidence from the kick off. He controlled the game, as is his wont, and gradually came to establish his supremacy all over the field.

Odafe’s brilliance was matched by Roberto Silva, a crafty Brazilian in his sixth season in India. Silva rocked Churchill Brothers with a thundering free-kick in the 83rd minute. It was a breathtaking goal indeed!

But Odafe’s goal was a beauty as he reduced the Dempo defence to acute embarrassment. He set Khanthang Paite through and received the ball back at the top of the box. It was crowded — Odafe and five men around him. He side stepped two, foxed two more, saw a small scoring-window and fired the ball. It nestled nicely at the back of the net.

Dull first half

The contest lacked flair and intensity in the first half. Dempo was guarded even as Churchill Brothers was willing to increase the pace by looking to score. But most moves fizzled out near the rival box.

Even the goal came from a hopeful drive by Rai. At the edge of the box, Rai took position. So did goalkeeper Abhijit Mondal, securing one corner. Rai’s shot, however, was deflected. The ball rose in an arc and Mondal watched in horror as it dipped into the other corner.

Dempo may have missed an injured Sameer Naik in the defence where Mahesh Gawli and Anwar were overworked in trying to contain Odafe and Reisangmi Vashum.

The over-emphasis on defence meant Dempo was not in the best position to explore upfront.

The one good move that stood out in the first half was generated by Anthony Pereira. He took three defenders in his stride as he streaked down the right flank. His measured cross was met by Nicolau Borges but his header was off the mark. Borges deserved praise for his hard work; as did Paite, who played his heart out.

Sunil Chetri was much below his best and Roberto Silva was unable to make much inroads. It was hardly surprising that he took the difficult route to score. A pity it came too late.

More In: SPORT | Today's Paper