Bagan fails to capitalise on good start

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TO THE RESCUE: Mohun Bagan defender N. Mohanraj (right) clearing the ball from Al Wehdat’s Al Sapah.
TO THE RESCUE: Mohun Bagan defender N. Mohanraj (right) clearing the ball from Al Wehdat’s Al Sapah.

Principal Correspondent

KOLKATA: Mohun Bagan squandered an early lead to go down 1-2 to Jordan’s Al Wehdat in a second round group league (D) encounter of the AFC Cup at the Howrah Municipal Stadium, near here, on Tuesday.

Rakesh Masih put the home side ahead in the 13th minute to brighten hopes of breaking its poor run in recent times. However, Bagan failed to capitalise on the opportunity and allowed Al Wehdat to strike back twice in the first session.

This was the second straight defeat for Bagan in the AFC Cup. The team had also lost two matches on the trot in the I-League.

New combination

Bagan coach Karim Bencherifa, desperate to revive his team’s fortunes, opted for a new combination with a lone attacker in the form of skipper Baichung Bhutia.

With five men in the midfield, Bagan succeeded in gaining a firm grip initially, but surrendered the initiative to a quick, aggressive opponent which regrouped in the latter stages of the first session. Bhutia set up Bagan’s first goal in the 13th minute, midfielder Masih cashing in on his captain’s effort with a rasping drive that beat Wehdat custodian Malek Samih all ends up.

Bagan could have scored earlier had Bhutia been a little more accurate with his angular shot in the seventh minute of the match.

Some sloppy defending cost Bagan its lead. Al Wehdat, stung by the reverse, found the equaliser off a fast counterattack in the 16th minute. Mahmoud Shelbaieh nodded home for Wehdat, availing a measured centre from Issa Al Sapah. Bagan defender N. Mohanraj fumbled and easily let off the onrushing Al Sapah into the attack zone.

The rest of the Bagan defenders were equally complacent, letting Shelbaieh to calmly head home the approaching floater from Sapah.

Costly miss

Bhutia earned another chance to put Bagan in the lead, but his 24th minute effort went wide. The miss seemed to cost Bagan dearly as the visitor nudged ahead in the 31st minute. The home defence failed again, allowing Wehdat medio Hassan Abdel-Fattah to score almost unchallenged.

Bencherifa reintroduced Brazilian midfielder Marcos Pereira, who was not expected to play in the game after being injured, in the second session in a bid to prop up the attack.

Bhutia was joined by the young Branco Vincent Cardoso, as the Bagan coach fell back to the trusted formula of two attackers. The decision seemed to have come a bit too late, as Wehdat tightened up its defence to ensure that there was no change to the 2-1 scoreline.

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