Depleted East Bengal glows in lacklustre final

STEPHEN CONSTANTINE never loses an opportunity to remind us repeatedly that competitive and classy football can be enjoyed only in the National Football League. Not in the National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy.

VIJAY LOKAPALLY

The victorious East Bengal team. — Pic. S. SUBRAMANIUM-

STEPHEN CONSTANTINE never loses an opportunity to remind us repeatedly that competitive and classy football can be enjoyed only in the National Football League. Not in the National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy.

Club culture, Constantine stressed, was far superior than loyalty to your state. His contempt for Santosh Trophy was shocking, just as shocking as the mediocre level of competition that some of the top clubs of the country displayed in the Durand Cup tournament.

It is another matter that the tournament itself lacked its past lustre. The indifferent attitude of the organising officials was an insult to the dedicated methods of the earlier team in making Durand Cup a prestigious event in the football calendar. It reflected in the overall conduct of the tournament, not to speak of the response from the teams. Two matches starting ten minutes late did not show the army officials in good light.

On the field, the fare was most forgettable. The elite from Kolkata contested the final but had very little to offer in terms of entertainment. East Bengal won the insipid match which was dominated by Mohun Bagan. The rest of the teams were no different, with the exception of JCT, Phagwara.

That a depleted East Bengal won the title speaks for the overall standard of the competition. JCT had strength but not the striking power; Mohun Bagan did everything well except score; the three teams from Goa — Salgaocar, Dempo and Sporting Clube De-Goa — lacked will. The scenario was dismal and could be seen in the slack spectator response.

East Bengal won the acrimonious final against Mohun Bagan 2-1 and dedicated the triumph to Sasthi Duley and Dipankar Roy, two of their mates in jail for their alleged involvement with a criminal. "This win is for them," said coach Bikas Panji, who was reportedly a remote control robot in place of Subhas Bhoumick. It was a joke. Bhoumick making the substitutions and tactical changes through the mobile phone from Kolkata. And yet, Panji, who only carried out orders, was adjudged the best coach. One thought, the honour should have gone to Savio Madeira, who got the best out of a team with limitations. That Salgaocar made life difficult for Mohun Bagan in the semifinal was a tribute to Savio's excellent reading of the opposition. Bagan escaped only because Felix Ibrebru, the Nigerian professional, missed two penalties to bury Salgaocar's hopes in a cruel finish.

East Bengal owed it to Earnest Jeremiah, the Nigerian who created the winning goal in the final, after his stirring show in the preceding matches. Apart from Jeremiah, Bello Razaq, the Nigerian professional in Salgaocar ranks, was the one to win accolades for his performance. Jeremiah was a constant threat to the opposition while Razaq's confidence in the defence stood out.

Debjit Ghosh set an example with his dedicated approach in marshalling the East Bengal defence. He was supported by the hard-working Madhab Das, who holds lot of promise, not to forget the opportunism of Chandan Das. His second goal in the final was a gem after Jeremiah had set up the move.

Mohun Bagan may consider itself unfortunate. It dominated the final, did well to equalise after a penalty by Chandan put East Bengal in the lead, but the injury time wound inflicted by Chandan was difficult to recover from. This when East Bengal had been reduced to ten men. Rishi Kapoor and Manitombi Singh played with commitment in the defence but Mohun Bagan lacked the fire up front even though Noel Wilson played his heart out in the midfield.

JCT showed the will to go the distance. With coach Parminder Singh inspiring the team, Sukhwinder Singh was present too, the JCT demonstrated attractive football. It helped the team that it did not have any stars but it had some in the making. Hardeep Gill was electric in his movements as he gave the opposition a torrid time with his imaginative game in the midfield. Harpreet Singh was a rock in the defence, playing a stellar role, and the untiring Sukhjinder Singh strengthened the midfield. One could not have ignored the tremendous zeal that marked Baldeep Singh's game. Harvinder Singh was a lone ranger up front but always looking good. "If only we had availed of our chances," remarked Parminder. He was right.

State Bank of Travancore was expected to make a mark but then it failed to make it past the quarterfinal league. The players looked tired, nine of them came from the Kerala team which won the Santosh Trophy, but made no excuses. The intensity was missing in the SBT ranks.

Border Security Force was a shadow of its glorious past while Army XI and Assam Rifles simply made up the numbers. The decline of teams from Services only highlighted the total lack of interest for the game. It was hardly surprising if it reflected in the poor organisation of the Durand Cup, the second oldest tournament in the world.

More than any team, the performance of Tata Football Academy (TFA) was shockingly pedestrian. For a team that `lives' football, the youngsters hardly made an impact. Their lack of basics was an alarming indication of poor coaching and the team had nothing to drive home, barring the brave show by goalkeeper Shilton Pal and the speedy forwards Mark Fernandes and Satish Kumar. They have the aptitude to make it big.