Friday, 9 August 2013

East Bengal 2-1 Mohun Bagan : National Football League 1st Leg 2003-04

22.1.2004, Calcutta: A draw would at least have been a moral victory for Mohun Bagan. They played their hearts out in the first half, and despite changing ends at 1-1, silly mistakes in the defence robbed the initiative and the match in the second. In the end, East Bengal’s 2-1 win in their National Football League derby at the Salt Lake Stadium looked 
deserving. In the end, there was good behaviour. No post-match finger-pointing, no outburst against referee S.M. Balu of Karnataka (a few unusual decisions did happen) and it was all very refreshing, really. As the coaches met the media, probably the long lay-off that lies ahead played on their minds.
East Bengal beat arch-rivals Mohun Bagan 2-1 in their National Football League derby at the Salt Lake Stadium Thursday. While Dipankar Roy put East Bengal ahead, Ashim Biswas restored parity, before Mike Okoro got the winner.

Dipankar Roy put the league champions ahead in the 23rd minute and Ashim Biswas restored parity in the 40th. Mike Okoro headed home the winner in the 65th minute.
All the tension that the coaches predicted didn’t really seem to matter in the first half, with coach Aloke Mukherjee’s green-maroon brigade quickly getting a measure of their opponents, using excellent half-line feed and a neat passing game. Veteran Basudeb Mondal was all over, so was Rennedy Singh. Eduardo was providing excellent support to Biswas upfront, taking a good deal of load off the defence.
In the defence, too, Leonardo was excellent in interception, showing good anticipation. However, Rishi Kapoor remained a sad story.
While East Bengal’s Okoro was outstanding up the right and moving into the area of kill, the forward line, especially the famed duo of Bhaichung Bhutia and Cristiano de lima Junior was barely allowed any elbow space. The idea was to get Okoro to shovel up the feed to the forward line for a shot.
In the 12th minute Basudeb was up the middle, sending a rising centre to Eduardo on the right. East Bengal goalkeeper Sangram Mukherjee made a sterling diving save of the Brazilian’s powerful left-footed volley.

Junior did try a header at the other end, but it was a rather half-hearted effort.
The goal actually came quite against the run of play, in a counter-attack of sorts, as Bhaichung received one from a melee in the rival defensive third. He passed onto Okoro on the right and the latter lifted for Dipankar. Dipankar’s right-footer from an acute angle was a tentative shot, but it took Bagan ’keeper Bilifang Narzary’s fingers and went in.
East Bengal were suddenly on the offensive from then, the Bagan defence looking pretty shaky. Okoro again pressed in, lifting one from the right to the goalmouth in the 37th minute. Bhaichung had two defenders on guard, but himself moved in late for the kill, wasting the opportunity.
The equaliser, too, came against the run of play. While it was East Bengal charging in, a misspass had Leonardo and Eduardo move up off a one-two. Leonardo’s rising centre reached the goalmouth and Biswas jumped quickly to head in brilliantly past the far post, with ’keeper Mukherjee stranded at the near.
Three minutes into the second session of play Eduardo hurt his ankle and had to be replaced by Sunil Chhetri. The result was a big loss of attacking sting in the Bagan forward line. That also pushed the defensive screen in lateral pressure, showing gaps.
Chhetri did get his chance to be in the sun when he was fed a lifting centre from the left by Rennedy, but the former, placed well, headed off target from close. Had that been scored the story of the day could well have been different.

Junior, too, disappointed in the 57th minute. A ball from the left was taken by a diving Narzary, but in the fall it spilled out and at the feet of Junior. The Brazilian was too slow to trap and turn as Harpreet Singh cleared from near the goalline.
Then came the clincher. It was a Kapoor folly that resulted in a flag-kick on the right. Alvito D’Cunha’s low shot could also have been intercepted, but it moved into the melee instead. Okoro had to barely jump before heading in.
As the teams go into a long lay-off from the National League — the national team goes into the pre-World Cup matches in Margao — East Bengal carry 21 points and Bagan 14.
“Satisfied”, wasn’t a word East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick uses often. He did just that, and then said: “I wanted to end the first leg on 20 points, my players gave me a point extra. That’s nice.” He even went onto point a deficiency in the rival attack as a relieving factor — another uncharacteristic comment (Wednesday he had refused to admit any Jose Ramirez Barreto factor in his confidence). “Of course it (Barreto not being there) made a difference. We could play freely. Barreto is always a threat, even if we have taken a good lead,” he said.
“I had told my boys to be cautious in the first half and not concede a lead. I had said we would then handle the second half. They did just that,” said Bhowmick.
Though not really saying so, Bhowmick made it clear that the title-defence now looked a distinct possibility. He said the upcoming AFC Champions League is a “big challenge and we want to keep the good work going.” He refused to say if the gap and the national team stint could in any way hamper his preparations.
Mohun Bagan coach Aloke Mukherjee’s despair was understandable. “I was handicapped with the shortage of another good attacker in the reserve bench to provide support to Ashim Biswas,” he said.
“There is little I could do about this… In the month-long gap that there will be now I will be able to shore up my defensive shortfall (and there were many Thursday, especially by Rishi Kapoor that resulted in the Okoro clincher), but I need a good foreigner in striking position. I will ask my club for this.”
Regarding the deficiencies that ’keeper Bilifang Narzary has shown, Mukherjee said he was again helpless. “Had Prasanta Dora or Imran Khan been available for this match the end scoreline would have been different,” he said. “However, I am happy that my boys did play a great game in the first half. We managed to bottle up their top two strikers, Bhaichung Bhutia and Cristiano Junior.

“That we conceded the goals was through silly defensive errors, but it is also true that they were able to score only off set-pieces,” said the coach.
Mike Okoro has gone through a lot over the past one year. From spearheading the East Bengal attack to glory in Jakarta, he came close to being suspended for his whimsical ways.
With injuries to the likes of Suley Musah and Douglas da Silva, the East Bengal authorities were forced to persist with the Nigerian ball-player, and it’s clear as broad daylight that they were not wrong.
Okoro himself believes the dark days are behind him and he is close to his best. “It’s New Year, a completely new beginning…I want to look ahead,” the Nigerian said.
Okoro was the standout man for East Bengal on Thursday in an unaccustomed position in the midfield. He was the main man behind most of the attacks and clinched the game for East Bengal in the 65th minute header.
“Things did go a little wrong late last year. But I’m happy to be back in full flight,” a visibly relaxed Okoro said.
But what was going wrong' “The concentration wasn’t there, I’m trying to get my focus back.”
But what he didn’t mention was the enormous turmoil he had gone through in his personal life. After losing his baby, he broke off with his long-time fiancĂ©e. He came back to India a completely disoriented man, and the East Bengal authorities even contemplated on providing psychiatric treatment to him.
“I want to dedicate this performance to all those who have stood by me during the rough times.”
Is this the best performance of his life'

“Don’t know, but definitely one of the most important ones of my career,” he added.
“In fact, things started falling in place from the last game against Mohammedan Sporting…I’m happy to keep the good work going.
When asked whether it was a little difficult playing in the midfield, Okoro said: “A good player has to adjust himself in every position. The coach wants me in the midfield and it’s my duty to keep delivering.”
But he agreed to the fact that Jose Ramirez Barreto’s absence was a factor. “When a player of his stature is not around, you feel more confident.” Mohun Bagan forward Ashim Biswas also harped on that point. “Had Barreto been there, I could have played a little more freely. It’s always tough to play with three markers breathing down your throat,” Biswas, Bagan’s lone scorer, said.
Three members of the Bayern Munich fan club — Michael Barth, Marcos Ross and George Berz were present at the Salt Lake Stadium to get a flavour of Indian football. “We’re travelling all around the world to watch football and are sponsored by our organisation — Red Munich,” Ross said. The group, however, didn’t sound too satisfied with the quality of football that was on offer.

East Bengal: Sangram Mukherjee, Dipankar Roy (Alvito D’Cunha, 60), Dipak Mondal, Mahesh Gawli, Subhashis Roy Chowdhury, Subhas Chakraborty, Mike Okoro, Debjit Ghosh, Sujoy Dutta (Anit Ghosh, 70), Bhaichung Bhutia (K. Kulothungan, 83), Cristiano de lima Junior.
Mohun Bagan: Bilifang Narzary, Babun Kar, Harpreet Singh, Leonardo, Rishi Kapoor (Lolendra Singh, 83), Mehtab Hossain, Basudeb Mondal, Rocus Lamare, Rennedy Singh, Eduardo (Sunil Chhetri, 48), Ashim Biswas.
Referee: S.M. Balu (Karnataka).

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Mohun Bagan 1-2 East Bengal : National Football League 2nd Leg 2003-04

25.4.2004, Calcutta: East Bengal’s pride and character first woke up to an early Mohun Bagan goal, then shot back at the setback with a devouring rage and finally put things into perspective, returning 2-1 winners over their arch-rivals in the high-voltage National Football League (NFL) clash at the Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday.
Bhaichung Bhutia and Cristiano Junior scored in a span of six minutes in the second half to turn Ashim Biswas’s 15th-minute goal into insignificance as East Bengal inched closer to the title with 43 points after 19 matches and Mohun Bagan were left sniffing at the relegation threat on 19. That was then, East Bengal’s 100th win over Mohun Bagan in domestic tournaments. They are now just a win away from retaining the title.

The beauty of the goals as well as of the game in its entirety, however, could not escape phases of its ugly face as well, when Mohun Bagan captain Rennedy Singh and East Bengal right-back Surkumar Singh were marched out of the game following a fight between them in the 62nd minute. Then, in closing minutes, Mohun Bagan’s Leonardo da Almeida and Mehtab Hossain and East Bengal substitute Dipankar Roy were engaged in another bout of altercation, which ended up with the latter two being lucky to receive just yellow cards.

Lolendra Singh and Leonardo as well as Mahesh Gawli and Douglas da Silva were also booked in a match which saw as much nicety of play as heated arguments among players.
The match could also be interpreted in accordance with an anticipated script — Mohun Bagan defending deep and desperate against the adventurous red-and-gold brigade. In the 10th minute, Mike Okoro, ever unflagging and energetic, crossed to the address of an onrushing Alvito D’Cunha, whose first-time shot was ably saved by Prasanta Dora. Back came another attack, this time Junior header went over the bar.
It seemed an East Bengal surge all along but Ashim’s goal suddenly painted the landscape in a different colour. It was born off Rennedy’s famous left-foot and when Mehtab sold a dummy with his captain’s cross, Dipak Mondal completely failed to read the bounce of the ball and Ashim, waiting behind, gleefully accepted the offer and volleyed home low to Sangram Mukherjee’s right hand.

Subhas Bhowmick immediately carried out a reshuffle in the field, replacing Debjit Ghosh with Dipankar, who switched to the right wing. It now looked a test of East Bengal’s nerve and ambition and they responded to it in style. Mohun Bagan’s gradual retreat to their area, aiming to protect Ashim’s gift, allowed the opponents operating in an almost unchallenged middle-third. Crosses from both sides started coming thick and fast into the Mohun Bagan box.

Subrata Bhattacharya, Mohun Bagan’s new technical director, applied double covering for Bhaichung and Junior with Palash Karmakar giving special attention to the prolific Brazilian striker. In another interesting move, Basudeb Mondal was turned into a spoiler instead of a creator, keeping a close tab on Douglas’ operation in the centre. The green-and-maroon team, in a new jersey, suddenly looked like an invigorated bunch, as if with a cause to fight till last breath. They chased every ball and every rival in group, leaving the fancied East Bengal attackers helpless in opening up the defence.
Junior’s high-volley rocked the crossbar in the 35th minute, but Mohun Bagan otherwise managed to hold their fort intact.
But East Bengal, like earlier occasions, came back firing on all cylinders in the second half. Bhaichung failed to push the ball in from handshaking distance with Prasanta in the 51st minute, but it didn’t cost his team much as the equaliser came within a couple of minutes. Shylo Malsawmtluanga fed Douglas in the middle and the latter released it for fellow countrymate Junior on the right. Junior outran marker Palash and took a low volley, which came into play after hitting the side-post. Bhaichung, the predator, followed the ball and finished it at the other post.
The winner appeared always on the cards as Mohun Bagan fell back heavily into their area. Dipankar passed to Alvito near the penalty arc and the latter quickly released the ball for Junior on the left. As the Brazilian sprinted forward, came in his way the legs of Leonardo.
The referee Walter Pereira pointed to the spot-kick and Junior converted to take his NFL tally to 13, one behind Churchill Brothers’ Yusif Yakubu.
Junior’s goal might have taken the steam out of Mohun Bagan fight and it was reflected in the way Rennedy kicked Surkumar from behind. Bhaichung quickly intervened and tried to pacify the rival captain. Surkumar turned back, took his attacker by the scruff of his neck. The duo fell into ground fighting and then stood up, only to head off the field in shame.
“Mohun Bagan were ultra-defensive throughout the match. They were only heavily intent on holding us by any means. By doing so, they sometimes looked like a lower-grade first division team, playing against bigger opponents… it happens in para football,” Bhowmick commented in the post-match press conference.
Mohun Bagan technical director Subrata Bhattacharya, however, reasoned his strategy was influenced by his wards’ strength. “We played according to our strengths and weaknesses. Had I won the match, I could have also said a few things in similar lines,” he shot back.
“East Bengal definitely played better and were deserved winners. But I don’t think we’ve played para football and they something European. Then, why didn’t they win the match 10-0' Why the very same players (of East Bengal) conceded five goals against a team like Oman'” Bhattacharya pointed out.
He, though, admitted Rennedy Singh’s exit from the field (after his red-card, along with East Bengal’s Surkumar Singh through a fight) was a “huge blow” to his team. He also was critical of the physical ability of his boys, with a hidden allusion to the team under coach Aloke Mukherjee, who has stopped attending practice since the technical director’s induction.

“To me, the physical strengths of the teams made all the difference. I fielded Abhay Kumar in a key position (in defence). But he became tired afterwards and later I came to know he hadn’t had practice for the last 10 months at all. Abhay’s fatigue was a setback in that I couldn’t block East Bengal’s wing play.
“I know my players remain fit for about 60-70 minutes. But If my players were physically strong, I could’ve played with some calculations,” Bhattacharya said.
“My target has got a bit tougher now, but remains the same — six points from three matches,” he added.
Bhowmick, however, gave credit to Bhattacharya, saying the Mohun Bagan technical director “had done what he could with his resources”.
“But I’ve not seen any fight in them. What they were doing was simple — defending deep and clearing the balls high and long. And we conceded the goal in one such moves,” observed Bhowmick.
“In the first-half, my boys failed to explore the gaps in Mohun Bagan defence. We made some changes and rectified our mistakes thereafter and succeeded,” he added.
Incidentally, Ashim Biswas, often criticised for his lack of goal-scoring moments in the NFL, has now hit the target in the last three meetings between the arch-rivals. His team, though, lost on all occasions.
“It’s tragedy… I can’t explain it. Whenever I scored against them, my team lost,” lamented Mohun Bagan’s star.
“The job is now cut out for all of us…. We’ve to stay out of relegation,” he said.
East Bengal: Sangram Mukherjee; Debjit Ghosh (Dipankar Roy, 24), Mahesh Gawli, Dipak Mondal; Surkumar Singh, Shylo Malsawmtluanga, Douglas D'Silva, Alvito D'Cunha (Surya Bikash Chakraborty, 80), Mike Okoro; Cristiano Junior, Bhaichung Bhutia (K. Kulothungan, 88).
Mohun Bagan: Prasanta Dora; Palash Karmakar, Lolendra Singh (Sunil Chhetri, 70), Leonardo da Almeida, Debkumar Sashmal; Abhay Kumar (Hardeep Gill, 86), Mehtab Hussain, Basudeb Mondal (Harpreet Singh, 59), Noel Kasak, Rennedy Singh; Ashim Biswas.
Referee: Walter Pereira.

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