Army Green emerges Durand Cup champion after shootout win

Army Green won the Durand Cup 6-5 against fellow debutants Neroca FC on penalties after the teams were tied goalless at the end of the extra time.

Durand Cup final, Army Green v Neroca FC

Players in action during the Durand Cup final between Army Green and Neroca FC in New Delhi on Sunday.   -  PTI

Playing a major tournament final for the first time ever can be daunting for any team. Army Green, however, refused to be overawed by either the stage or the vociferous support for its opposition, winning the Durand Cup 6-5 against fellow debutants Neroca FC on penalties after the teams were tied goalless at the end of the extra time.

An Army team had last won the football title in 2005, also the last time it reached the final. It was a mark of the team's supreme fitness that it played, and came out on top, in two matches that went into penalties in three days. Vocal support from the stands packed with Armymen helped. It was also to the credit of the team's discipline that saw it stick to plan and stay patient, waiting for the opposition to err.

Till the end of 120 minutes, it was anybody's game. Neroca had flair and the players to execute its attacking game. It came close to scoring repeatedly but just could not find the gap in Army’s defence. A brilliant long, diagonal cross from Johnson Singh saw Malemnganba Meitei head over with plenty of time in the 18th minute. A free kick right in front of the box went waste two minutes from half-time. Four back-to-back corners were wasted soon after resumption.

A well-placed through ball in the 115th minute was headed over by Sushil Singh with all the space and time on hand. Frustration led to errors creeping into Neroca's play. That almost all of its senior players – Sushil, Subhash Singh, Govin Singh, Ashok Singh – had a collective off-day made it worse.

Army, sitting deep and tightly packed in defence, relied more on counterattacks, running away with the ball every time Neroca was off target. The fact that captain P.C. Llawmkina was its only striker, however, saw most of the moves from the wings wasted. Uttam Das and Herojit Singh were pushed up later on and Nanish Singh kept sending the ball from the right but found no one to put it in. The game swung repeatedly as the teams took turns to attack and defend, the pace fluctuating in the hot and humid weather.

It was the defence, for both sides, that kept their teams in the game all through. Liberian Kallon Varne, coming off a one-match suspension, was the pillar of strength for Neroca with his positioning and clearance, not letting the ball get past him even once. Herojit and Bobby Chand Singh did the same for Army, running and diving all over the ground to thwart any attack.

It truly was the day of the underdog at the Ambedkar Stadium, for a team with no professionals that hardly plays in tournaments to come out on top. The victory made Army green richer by Rs 45 lakhs while Neroca took home Rs 20 lakhs as prize money.

The result: Final: Army Green 0 (6) bt Neroca FC 0 (5) in sudden death.

Shootout scorers: Army Green: PC Lallawmkina, PD Gurung, Uttan Das, Linesh PV, Bikash Budhathoki, Bikram Adhikari; Neroca FC: Subhash Singh, David Lalbiaklara, Mohd. Sohail Shah, Dhananjoy Singh, Ashok Singh.

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