17 March 2013, Kolkata : Eighty-eight minutes into Sunday’s IFA Shield ‘Derby’ semi-final, with Mohun Bagan leading 1-0, East Bengal fans thought it was all over.
CS Sabeeth had given Karim Bencherifa's team an early second half lead in the 47th minute, which was cancelled out by Andrew Barisic's stunning effort in the 86th minute. In the shootout Edeh Chidi, Barisic, Sanju Pradhan and Baljit Singh Sahni scored for East Bengal with only Jewel Raja and Aiborlang Khongjee finding the net for Mohun Bagan. While skipper Odafa Okolie and Nirmal Chhetri missed for Bagan, Naoba Singh was the only guilty party for the opposition.
And then out of the blue, it happened. A Naoba Singh throw-in and Sanju Pradhan played it to Harmanjyot Singh Khabra, who sold a brilliant dummy. Andrew Barisic reacted promptly and unleashed a booming right-footer from the edge of the box, which crashed into the net giving Bagan goalkeeper Shilton Paul in the near post hardly a chance to move.
Power and precision were the hallmark of that strike. A dream goal, which East Bengal fans will remember for a long, long time.
That was the lifeline the defending champions needed as Bagan were shaken and stirred. The Okolie Odafes, who were minutes away from the final, just did not know what hit them. Barisic and his teammates were delirious in their celebration. In the dugout a usually reticent Trevor James Morgan also could not hold back his emotions.
The match went into extra-time and then, the tie-breakers, where, as expected, it was Bagan who blinked first. Gurpreet Singh Sandhu — exactly a year and a day ago his saves in the tie-breaker gave East Bengal the Shield — dived to his right to save Odafe's shot, while Nirmal Chetri hit the horizontal. Bagan were collapsing… That Barisic strike was too debilitating a blow to them.
East Bengal all this while held their nerves and as Baljit Sahni made it 4-2 in the shoot-out, the flares in the East Bengal stands at the flood-lit Salt Lake Stadium looked all the more beautiful.
Deservingly, Morgan’s men entered the Shield final winning 5-3 (1-1 after regulation time). It will be a repeat of last year’s final as they set up a summit clash with Prayag United Sports Club.
East Bengal showed tremendous courage and character. Under the newly installed floodlights it was all the more glaring. They could have finished the match in the first half itself, but for Aniyeche Echezona’s superb tackle to Edeh Chidi and Lalrindika Ralte’s showmanship with only Shilton to beat, kept the scoreline goalless at half-time.
After the change of ends, Bagan suddenly had a spring in their steps. Probably it had something to do with Karim Bencharifa’s hard-talk at the dressing room.
Odafe, who generally plays as the No.9, went wide and it gave instant result. A minute into the second half, Nirmal Chetri floated one into the East Bengal penalty box.
With Khabra and Gurwinder Singh breathing down Odafe’s neck, Bagan’s Nigerian captain chested it down and lobbed it onto CS Sabeeth’s path. The young striker made no mistake in banging it home. East Bengal half-heartedly appealed for an offside, but Uga Okpara was on line with Sabeeth.
Thereafter, for the next 15 minutes it was all Bagan. Quinton Jacobs was pulling the strings from the midfield, Odafe stretched the East Bengal defence and Jewel Raja and Sabeeth made the best use of the vacant spaces.
But Gurwinder made sure Bagan did not get another look-in at the goal. Then at the 69th minute Morgan came up with his ace. In came Barisic, replacing a subdued Penn Orji. Nineteen minutes later he delivered and how!
East Bengal fans have now found a new name to chant.
East Bengal: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Harmanjyot Singh Khabra, Uga Okpara, Gurwinder Singh, Saumik Dey, Sanju Pradhan, Mehtab Hussain, Penn Orji (Andrew Barisic 69), Lalrindika Ralte (Naoba Singh 83), Edeh Chidi, Robin Singh (Baljit Sahni 57).
Mohun Bagan: Shilton Paul, Nirmal Chetri, Aniyeche Echezona, Mehrajuddin Wadoo, Aiborlang Khongjee, Jewel Raja, Quinton Jacobs (Tolgay Ozebe 90), Denson Devadas (Biswajit Saha 119), Manish Bhargav, Okolie Odafe, CS Sabeeth.
Referee: MB Santosh Kumar (Kerala)
MoM: Sanju Pradhan (East Bengal).
Here are the match videos: