East Bengal took a step closer to realising its semifinal dream when it prevailed over visiting Semen Padang of Indonesia 1-0 in its home match of the AFC Cup quarterfinal at the Salt Lake Stadium here on Tuesday.
Japanese midfielder Ryuji Sueoka, an early second-half substitute, found the winner in the 71st minute.
East Bengal will play the return match in Padang on September 24 and a draw there will be enough to seal its place in the semfinals.
Nur Iskandar created the first scoring opportunity of the match in the 15th minute. East Bengal custodian Gurpreet Sandhu faltered while gathering a dipping freekick by Yu Hynkoo. Iskandar, however, was tardy with the finishing and sent his header wide of the unguarded goal.
Apparently looking to the youth to induce more energy, East Bengal’s new Brazilian coach Marcos Falopa preferred fielding Cavin Lobo to Sueoka and Joaquim Abranches in the opening session.
The attack showed intent, but fell short in application despite going on the offensive right from the start.
The hosts seemed to be failing in the fitness department as the Indonesians showed better speed and agility.
East Bengal came close in the 22nd minute when Edeh Chidi tore deep into the Padang defence and set up a nice back-centre in the middle.
But, with the ball rolling free East Bengal midfielder Reisangmi Vashum delayed his approach and failed to guide it home.
East Bengal had another good opportunity in the injury-time of the first half but its South Sudanese striker James Moga delayed his effort.
Falopa pressed in seasoned Sueoka early in the second half (55th minute) looking to add momentum to the attack, as Moga, without enough match practice, looked sluggish and struggled.
The Japanese midfielder, aided also by the arrival of Abranches in place of Moga a little later, added punch to East Bengal’s attack.
After Chidi saw his well-crafted solo effort going wide in the 58th minute, Sueoka redeemed East Bengal’s hopes with a clinical finish, latching on to a feed from Naoba Singh in the 71st minute and sending the ball home with a swerving shot.
The result: East Bengal 1 (Ryuji Sueoka 71st) bt Semen Padang 0.