Dominant Dempo

Dempo's delight... skipper Robert Silva and goalkeeper Satish Kumar (left) with the Durand Cup.-PTI Dempo's delight... skipper Robert Silva and goalkeeper Satish Kumar (left) with the Durand Cup.

Playing in its first final of the tournament, Dempo made the most of the occasion to lift the Durand Cup. A report by Vijay Lokapally.

A gate-free Durand Cup — it was tough to imagine such a scenario but it does indicate the changing times. The sponsors of the tournament, Osian's, insisted on free access to the spectators.

The venue too underwent a transformation, thanks again to the sponsors. The lush green field presented a pleasant sight, while the colourful atmosphere, with peppy music to entertain the gathering, kept the audience enthralled. If only the football could match the ambience — excellent weather and near-perfect playing conditions — at the Ambedkar Stadium.

The 119th edition of the Durand Cup witnessed good football only in patches. The focus was mainly on the performances of the foreign players. The teams in the fray, especially East Bengal and Mahindra United had a common agenda — to assess the worth of their foreign recruits. In the end, they experienced only disappointment.

Mahindra United's Anthony Santos, a Canada-born Brazilian, did not quite relish the tournament even as team-mate Yakubu Yusif, returning from a vacation in Ghana, had some bright moments.

Mohun Bagan relied heavily on Jose Ramirez Baretto, the mercurial Brazilian who shifted from Mahindra United. He started off well but faded in the crucial semi-final against Dempo. East Bengal's recruits from Brazil — Thiago Ferreira and Daniel Gil — were a let-down in their first ever appearance, while Azumi, a Japanese player of Indian origin, too failed to make any impact. The Kolkata giant's 0-4 defeat to JCT Mills, Phagwara, was a shocking experience for the club's fans. In contrast, Dempo Sports Club, Goa, benefited immensely from its overseas players.

True, the Durand Cup was a curtain-raiser to the season. For the teams preparing for the IFA Shield, the Federation Cup and the National Football League (NFL), the tournament provided the platform to test their strength.

Dempo, coached by the wily Armando Colaco, stood out for its consistency and planning while playing against the big teams. The Goan outfit's victory over Mohun Bagan in the semi-final, thanks to Robert `Beto' Silva's goal, was one of the high points of the tournament. "Beto has been the motivation for us right through," said Colaco. This summed up the Brazilian's contribution to his team. It was a shame that Beto was overlooked for the best player's award. The honour went to Dudu Omagbemi of Sporting Clube de Goa.

Beto, who played for Bagan last year, was in great form along with Nigerians Majek Bolaji and Ranty Martins. Clifford Miranda, the untiring midfielder, was a pillar of strength for Dempo. In the final against JCT, Martins' spectacular strike sent the fans into raptures.

JCT progressed to the final mainly on the strength of their superb Nigerians, Chidi Edeh and Adebayo Tokunbo, who switched over from Sporting Clube de Goa.

However, the team's third foreign recruit, Sunday Ambrose, was a flop. JCT's midfielder Shivraj Singh too impressed.

Full credit to Dempo for its victory. Mahindra United, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal may not have been at full strength but few would grudge Dempo its first ever Durand Cup title. It was the Goan club's first appearance in the final of the tournament and it made the most of the opportunity.

THE RESULTS Final

Dempo Sports Club 1 (Ranty Martins 74) bt JCT Mills, Phagwara, 0.

Semi-finals

Mohun Bagan AC 0 lost to Dempo 2 (Roberto Silva 22, Anthony Pereira 74).

JCT Mills 1 (Chidi Edeh 117) bt Sporting Clube de Goa 0.