Churchill dashes Bagan's title hopes

Churchill Brothers...winner of the 115th IFA Shield.-PICS: PTI

Banking on the strengths of its reserve bench, Churchill Brothers retained the IFA Shield in style as Mohun Bagan went down 2-1 in the final. Over to Amitabha Das Sharma.

Efficiency rather than sentiment comes in handy in the playing field. And Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan learnt it the hard way when Churchill Brothers outplayed it in the final of the 115th edition of the IFA Shield, dousing hopes of a grand celebration. The Kolkata side is celebrating the centenary year of its first IFA Shield triumph in 1911.

Banking on the strengths of its reserve bench, Churchill Brothers retained the crown in style as Bagan went down 2-1 in the final. The tournament, hastily slotted during the mid-season break in the I-League had a good mix of local and outstation teams, including a foreign side in China's Shadong Leung FC.

The initial group league stage had its share of surprises as local minnows Southern Samity outplayed both East Bengal and Shadong in its group ‘A' matches and booked a place in the last four stage. Samity, a comparatively unknown entity among the host of I-League elites, impressed everyone with its aggressive style of play. The team chiefly built on big-team rejects and trained by former East Bengal and Churchill Brothers coach Carlos Pereira put out a spirited show with Brazilian striker Edmilson Marques Pardal leading the goal hunt. Churchill also progressed from the same group with three wins from its four outings. Bagan and Lajong FC from Shillong were the lucky two from the other group.

The first semifinal was a scratchy affair and Churchill rode on the twin strikes of young Israil Gurung, one in each half, to beat Lajong. Playing without its talismanic striker Odafa Okolie, the Goan side made early inroads and went ahead early in the game, giving no time for the North-East side to settle down.

The first goal came off a free-kick variation in the ninth minute when Gurung slipped through the Lajong defence to nod home a nicely floated free-kick from striker Boima Karpeh.

Lajong, which was relegated from the I-League in the last season, went hard for the equaliser and came very close to getting it but for the framework of the Churchill goal came in the way of midfielder Lalhlimthara's long ranger. Lajong's efforts failed to supplement its aspirations as its attackers lacked the desired sharpness inside the striking zone. Introduction of New Zealand striker Kayne Vincent midway through the second session opened up the game for Churchill and the Kiwi came close thrice to increase the lead and finally set up Gurung for his second strike well into injury time.

Churchill Brothers captain Odafa Okolie (left) was instrumental in winning the Shield for his side.-

Southern Samity's giant killing run came to an end in the other semifinal as it looked overawed by the occasion against Mohun Bagan. Despite Edmilson's early strike, the minnow failed to hold on to its lead. The Brazilian carved in his freekick, past a diving Bagan ‘keeper Sangram Mukherjee as early as the ninth minute but Bagan restored parity through Nigerian Chidi Edeh's header two minutes from the lemon break.

The winner for Bagan came off rather comically in the 80th minute when the Samity goalkeeper, Amit Singha Roy, after making a safe catch to defuse an opposition assault, misdirected the subsequent throw right on the feet of Bagan forward Ashim Biswas who gleefully accepted his generosity.

The title clash re-established Churchill's supremacy as the Goa giants flew in Odafa for the special task and the player reposed the faith put on him. The home team went ahead through Chidi's strike in the 37th minute but Churchill broke free its shackles in the second half and Odafa soon restored parity after the restart. He came in handy again as he set up Charan Rai to net the winner in the 65th minute.

THE RESULTS

Final: Churchill Brothers 2 (Odafa Okolie 49, Charan Rai 65) beat Mohun Bagan 1 (Chidi Edeh 37). Third place play-off: Southern Samity 4 (Edmilson 6, 36 and 70, Francis Xavier 52) beat Shillong Lajong FC 0.

Semifinals: Mohun Bagan 2 (Chidi 43, Ashim Biswas 80) beat Southern Samity 1 (Edmilson 9); Churchill Brothers 2 (Israil Gurung 9 and 90+2) beat Lajong FC 0.