East Bengal defeated NorthEast United FC on penalties after amking a stunning comeback from two goals down and force a 2-2 stalemate at full-time to book their place in the final of the 132nd Durand Cup at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan (VYBK) in Kolkata on Tuesday.
The highlanders were the prowl from the word go as they hunted in packs of at least four to swarm as soon as any East Bengal player got on the ball. The ‘Red and Gold’ brigade countered with swift passing.
Halfway through the 9th minute, as Saul Crespo tried to shield a long ball from Phalguni Singh saw some pushing and shoving that ended in both players coming face-to-face after the referee’s whistle. Both teams rushed to either’s defense as the linesman and the referee teamed-up to stop the players from getting into a tussle.
After some back and forth, the game’s first real chance fell to Mahesh Singh, who made his way into the NEUFC penalty box in the 16th minute, by sheer force, only to put in feeble cross, that was cleared by rather easily by a NorthEast player.
In the 22nd minute, against the run of play, NorthEast United took the lead with Miguel Zabaco Tome heading in a delicate cross from Phalguni.
In the 26th minute, Mahesh sent in a fizzinf cross directed at Javier Siverio, who could no direct his headed effort goalwards.
East Bengal had the possession, created chances but NorthEast United had the lead.
Come the 40th minute, Nishu Kumar and Mandar Rao Desai combined well down the left wing, to whip in a cross. Siverio again climbed up to but could not keep his header on target.
After the restart, the slow build-up play was ditched for a more direct fast-paced waves of attack and counter-attack. The change prompted silly giveaways and general turnovers in possession.
With the hour-mark approaching, East Bengal grew increasingly frustrated.
And NorthEast United made them pay.
In the 57th minute, Phalguni scored a brilliant solo goal. His free-kick from the right was well cleared but Tondonba Singh’s long ball into the right channel meant Phalguni had the ball at his feet again. He drove inside with East Bengal defenders backing away and a few side steps later he was curling the ball into the far post with Prabhsukhan Gill diving as a mere spectator.
After the 60-minute mark, East Bengal threw the gauntlet at the NorthEast United defense. The Highlander Brigade, though clearly outnumbered, were the more vociferous in the stands.
In the 77th minute, the ‘Red and Gold’ brigade found their voice as East Bengal’s constant tries finally yielded a result. Mahesh’s shot deflected was unfortunately deflected by Soraisham Dinesh Singh and into the back of the net.
The last 10 minutes of the game was frantic as NorthEast United went into a shell after seeing their lead being cut in half and East Bengal, on the other hand, ready with to break down their defence with intricate moves.
NEYFC’s goal scorer, Zabaco was sent off in added-time for his second yellow of the night as East Bengal followed up on the advantage almost immediately, in the seventh minute after 90. Nandha headed in Cleiton’s inch-perfect cross to force the game to go to penalties.
In the shootout, Cleiton scored, Ibson Melo did too.
Saul Crespo scored, Gani Nigam did too.
Borja scored, Parthib missed twice after being called back with Prabhsukhan being of his line early.
Mahesh scored, Pragyan scored.
Nanda converted his penalty to send the East Bengal fans into a state of delirium.