Super Cup: Churchill and Gokulam enter final round

The Goan side will now face Kolkata giant Mohun Bagan — another I-League side — on April 1, at the same venue of Kalinga Stadium, in the main round of the Super Cup, beginning March 31.

With the win, Churchill Brothers redeemed its wretched season, somewhat, after it finished ninth in the 10-team I-League.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

I-League teams Churchill Brothers and Gokulam Kerala notched up victories against their respective Indian Super League (ISL) sides, to enter the final round of the inaugural Super Cup football tournament here, on Thursday.

Churchill rode on Trinidadian striker Willis Plaza’s double strike to beat Delhi Dynamos 2-1, while Gokulam Kerala blanked NorthEast United FC 2-0 — also via two goals from Ugandan striker Henry Kisekka — on the first day of the qualifying round matches, at the Kalinga Stadium.

The qualifying round matches are being played among teams, which had finished from 7th to 10th positions in the I-League, as well as the ISL. The top six finishers, in each of the league, have been handed direct entry of the main round, which begins at the same venue, on March 31.

Churchill will now face Kolkata giant Mohun Bagan — another I-League team — on April 1 in its round of 16 match, while Gokulam plays Bengaluru FC — ISL finalists side — on the same day.

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In the first day of the match, Plaza cancelled out Kalu Uche’s fifth minute strike, by scoring his first goal of the match, in the 32nd minute, before finding the the match-winner, in the 106th minute, as the qualifying round match went into extra time, after both sides were locked in a 1-1 stalemate, in 90 minutes.

With the win, Churchill redeemed its wretched season, somewhat, after it finished ninth in the 10-team I-League. For Delhi Dynamos, this was its first loss after the six-match unbeaten run in the ISL. It had finished at the eighth position in the ISL.

The ISL side started strong, controlling the proceedings from the midfield, where the Uruguayan, Claudio Mirabaje Correa, had an outstanding half.

The Lions got a goal as early as the fifth minute, when the Kalu Uche, fresh from a 13-goal run in the ISL, latched on to a ball, just outside the box, on the left, after a neat 1-2 with Nandhakumar, before unleashing a pile-driver, which crashed into the back of the net.

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Delhi continued to dominate possession. Romeo Fernandez, the Lions’ right-sided midfielder, then found Uche again, in the 12th minute, with a wonderful cross. The Nigerian’s header, this time, brought about a neat save from Churchill goalkeeper Cardozo. A minute later, Lalianzuala Changte missed with a clear sight at goal, from inside the box.

After the first quarter of an hour, Churchill slowly started to find its feet into the game. It started to work the wings, but was particularly let down by P.M. Britto’s crosses from the right.

In the 32nd minute, Nicolas found Plaza, with a wonderful floater, from the left wing. The Trinidadian controlled the ball in his own imitable way and drilled a shot through the near post, into the back of the net. Delhi’s Spanish goalkeeper, Xabier, had no chance.

Churchill had clearly shed all inhibitions after the first-half display, as it immediately brought in Israel Gurung for Yendremban Meitei, at the start of the second half, thus bolstering the midfield by sacrifising a defender.

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Delhi, meanwhile, had also effected a substitution at the same time as Churchill, but its’ was like for like with Seityasen Singh replacing Romeo Fernandez in the midfield.

It turned out to be a half of sustained end to end action, with both sides creating opportunities and missing with equal disdain. Mirabaje’s effort from a free kick, in the 56th minute, sailed over and away from the bar, while Plaza, in the 61st minute, unleashed another one of his lightning strikes, from the top of the box, which brought about a good save from Irueta.

While Delhi was still ahead in possession and was pressing hard, its efforts to weave through the Churchill defence lacked imagination and penetration. Churchill, on the other hand, seemed to have embarked upon a strategy of soaking in the pressure and trying to release Plaza, with the long ball from its own half, which was causing problems for the Delhi defence.

It was a very sluggish first 15 minutes of extra time, with both teams creating half-chances at best. However, Plaza breathed life into the second half of extra time, when an innocuous long ball from Jovel Martins, from deep inside the Churchill defence, saw Plaza trap beautifully over two defenders, inside the Delhi box, and neatly wrong-foot the keeper to beat him again at the near post.

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In the second match of the day also, a double strike by Ugandan striker Henry Kisekka (43rd and 75th minute), gave Gokulam a 2-0 win over NorthEast United.

Both sides were evenly matched till two minutes before the breather, when Arjun Jayaraj sent a brilliant through ball for Kisekka, on the right side, and the Ugandan took a shot at goal, from the right edge of the box, and found the back of the net.

The second goal also came from the same combination. Arjun Jayaraj’s square pass, from the right, found Kisekka, who made no mistake in putting the ball into the net.

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