Bhutia stars for East Bengal

KOLKATA: In a great contest of grit and endurance East Bengal defeated Sporting Clube de Goa 4-3, here at the Salt Lake Stadium on Saturday.

While the scoreline of the eighth round encounter of the National Football League matched the previous highest margin of a win in the tournament so far held by the league topper Mahindra United the standard of the action definitely better than all the previous battles.

Toast of the evening

The Indian star forward Baichung Bhutia was the toast of the evening as he netted in three goals in the home team's win. The win helped East Bengal move into the second spot with 15 points. Bhutia, who with this three goals, made it to the top of the goal scoring list and now shares the top spot with Ranty Martins of Dempo SC with six goals. Sayed Rahim Nabi struck once in between to break a possible hat-trick sequence for Bhutia.

The first session saw the opponents sharing the spoils. The first goal came from Bhutia in the 38th minute, when he nodded home a measured cross from Gauranga Dutta. The Sporting Clube reply came from Hardeep Saini, who struck with a rasping pile driver.

The second session started the fireworks. The Goa team turned the scoring sequence and forged a 2-1 lead in the 55th minute. The opportunity was created Bibiano Fernandes who set a perfect cross to be placed home by his Nigerian colleague Chidi Edeh.

Brisk pace

With the action set in a brisk pace, the host came quickly back in the game. Bhutia did the finishing act yet again to bring up the equalizer after Rahim Nabi had laid it along for the former with a crisp header in the 60th minute (2-2).

East Bengal regained the lead in the 64th minute and this time it was Nabi in the scoring act. He produced a brilliant header to finish a corner taken by Sasthi Duley. The fate of the match could have been sealed in favour of the host in the 71st minute, when East Bengal earned a penalty. But substitute Mike Okoro produced a feeble shot from the spot which was saved by the Sporting Clube custodian Felix D'Souza to have the tension extended to the final whistle.

The visitor, possessing one of the best midfield and attack combination in the tournament, restored parity for the second time in the 86th minute as Fernandes made it 3-3 availing a provision from Dudu Omagbemi. Bhutia pulled up the final trick in the 87th minute as he effectively combined with Okoro scoring the last goal and accomplish a great win for East Bengal. Sports Reporter