East Bengal rode on Mexican winger Enrique Esqueda's brace to register a 2-0 win over NEROCA FC and get its I-League campaign off to a winning start at Imphal’s Khuman Lampak stadium on Friday.
Esqueda gave East Bengal an early lead when he found the back of the net in the 10th minute and came back to score early in the second half to double his side's lead in the 48th minute. Laldanmawia Ralte was brought down in the box and Esqueda made no mistake in converting the resulting penalty kick.
NEROCA started with a 4-4-2 formation, with Singham Subash Singh and Nigerian Felix Chidi up front, while Japanese Katsumi Yusa lead the attack from midfield against his former club. Italian Mauro Boerchio made his debut for NEROCA under the woodwork instead of the veteran Lalit Thapa.
East Bengal started with Jobby Justin and Esqueda up front, who were supported by attacking wingers Laldanmawia Ralte and Lalrindika Ralte. Rakshit Dagar was the pick in goal and ahead of him was a solid back four represented by Spaniards Borja and Costa Rican World Cupper Jhonny Acosta along with Kamalpreet and Lalramchulova completing the lineup.
Esqueda stamped his class on the I-League early with a classy finish in the 10th minute of the match. Off a long throw from wing-back Manoj Mohammad into the box from the left flank, Williams tried to head clear but his effort only managed to find Esqueda in the middle of the box. The Mexican brought it down with his chest beautifully, turned and fired a right-footer to open the scoring.
NEROCA dominated possession through the game but failed to create chances. Midfielder Malemngamba Meetei was guilty of missing the side's best chance in the 25th minute when he essayed a feeble effort which was saved on the goaline by Yami Longwah.
Esqueda had a chance in added time of the first half when he latched on to a blooper by Rojen Meetei struck across the goal but missed the target. He was not to be denied in the 48th minute however, when Ralte was brought down inside the box by Denechandram Meetei. The Mexican converted with a powerful strike.
Eduardo had a fine chance in the 73rd minute when he executed a perfect central defender’s header off a corner, but the powerful strike caught Esqueda’s leg and sailed over the bar.
East Bengal held on to its two-goal lead to take all three points on offering. The side next faces Shillong Lajong in an away fixture on November 1, while NEROCA hosts Gokulam Kerala FC on October 31.
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