By Bappaditya Paul
The red and yellow brigade, a favourite in the tournament, has lost to Gokulam Kerala FC in the first semifinal played at Salt Lake Stadium here today 21 August afternoon.
Kerala’s victory came neither in the full-time nor in the extra time. Rather, the match went into a tiebreaker and they clinched the match there.
After incessant rains through the last week, today was a dry and mostly sunny day as East Bengal supporters thronged the stadium hoping that their team will make it to the final.
As the match kicked-off at 3 pm, East Bengal was visibly in domination.
The team got a lead in the 18th minute with Samad Ali Mallick taking a long shot at Kerala’s net. The ball found the net despite a deflection by Kerala defender Mohamed Irshad.
The red and yellow brigade kept up the momentum for a while but then gradually started running out of steam. In contrast, Kerala was gaining stretch and conceded no more chance to the rivals.
Instead, in the 44th, 45+2 and 45+3 minute in the first half, the visiting team narrowly missed three chances to score an equaliser. The repeated attacks put East Bengal defence under severe strain.
As the match resumed in the second-half, within a few minutes it became clear that the home team is in total disarray. Kerala consolidated itself and went on making one attack after another.
But for goalkeeper Mirshad K, no other player displayed any vigour even as Kerala were targeting East Bengal net continuously. Mirshad made two brilliant saves in the 51st and 61st minute.
Prior to this, in the 55th minute, the home team sent Kamalpreet Singh to the field as goal scorer Samad Mallick was down with injury.
It made another substitution within a few minutes by sending in T Naorem in the place of Brandon Vanlairemdika.
This is even as Kerala was carrying on with their attacks and East Bengal players were struggling to defend.
Kerala also made two substitutions: A Ettienne was replaced by Bruno Lima and Shibil Muhammed by Mohamed Salah.
Desperate to maintain its lead, East Bengal substituted striker Bidyashagar Singh by Boithang Haokip in the 80th minute. That was soon after Singh saw a yellow card for making a re-entry into the field from near the Kerala goalpost.
East Bengal’s troubles only escalated with every passing minute as its striker Naorem Singh was shown a yellow card a little after this.
Amidst this, Kerala’s Bruno took a superb shot in the 86th minute but it narrowly missed East Bengal’s net.
At this point, referee signalled six minutes of additional time. In the 93rd minute, came a major jolt for East Bengal as its forward Mehtab Singh was shown the red card after he hit a Kerala player while saving a goal in the penalty box.
The referee also signalled a penalty shot in favour of Kerala and their star striker Marcus Joseph made no mistake in netting a goal in the 94th minute.
The match now stood at 1:1.
There was no more action in the remaining two minutes but for a yellow card to East Bengal striker Kamalpreet Singh in the 95th minute. Thus the match dragged onto an extra time for 30 minutes.
Kerala maintained its domination in the extra time as well and kept on attacking the rival goalpost. But a few brilliant saves by East Bengal goalkeeper Mirshad denied them a score in the 90+17, 90+22 and 90+27 minute.
Two-minutes of additional time was added to the extra time play and this saw Kerala’s Marcus seeing a yellow card and East Bengal’s Pintu Mahata going down with an injury.
Even as Pintu was down on the field, referee blew the final whistle and thus the match now headed for a tiebreaker.
Peeved at this some East Bengal players turned aggressively at the referee and this earned one of them a yellow card.
The tiebreaker began with East Bengal’s Lalrindika taking the first shot and he made a miss by hitting the bar. In the next shot, Bruno scored for Kerala.
Under ever-mounting pressure, East Bengal missed its second shot as well and this time it was star striker Colado who had taken the shot. K Meitei missed the second shot for Kerala.
East Bengal got a fresh lease of breather as Marti Pasucual netted the third shot. The score stood at 1:1. But Jestin George gave Kerala a 2:1 lead in the very next shot.
Next, Boithang Haokip kept East Bengal’s chance alive by scoring an equaliser.
However, Lalromawia of Kerala scored again and thus leaving only one chance to East Bengal for an equaliser.
Much to the disappointment, Naorem missed a score and with this, ended East Bengal’s campaign for this Durand Cup. Kerala won by 3:2.