Emphatic win for Mahindra United

RITESH GUPTA

WHEN Mahindra United won the 114th Durand Cup in New Delhi, it was only the second triumph for the Mumbai team in Asia's oldest football tournament. In comparison to the dominance of Mohun Bagan and East Bengal in the last two decades, Mahindra has a long way to go before it catches up with the Kolkata sides in terms of the number of wins in the coveted tournament. Still what Mahindra managed to achieve in its second victory will have a special place in the history of the Durand Cup.

The triumphant Mahindra United team with the Durand Cup.-RAJEEV BHATT

A 5-0 win in the final against Churchill Brothers was a knock-out punch, from which the Goan side will take a long time to recover. Such a humiliating defeat was hardly expected but to its credit, Mahindra did not waste any opportunity in embarrassing a depleted side, which played with 10 players for 78 minutes.

In the absence of any Bengal side, only for the second time in 25 years, it was not surprising to find rather sparsely-filled stands as the final got underway in the Ambedkar Stadium. But the way Mahindra asserted its class, it resulted in a big round of applause after its win on that day. The winner took home Rs. 4 lakhs along with the trophy while Churchill got Rs. 2 lakhs.

Mahindra, had the edge all right, given its performance on its way to the final and also in the first phase of the National Football League (NFL). Yet, the victory margin was beyond expectations.

Only on two previous occasions had more than five goals been scored in a Durand final. In 1889, Highland Light Infantry beat Simla Rifles 8-1 while Somerset Light Infantry defeated Black Watch 6-1 in 1896.

One of the features of Mahindra's win was the team effort, led by midfielder Jules Alberto. The 26-year-old, who scored four goals in the tournament, contributed two in the final. He was also adjudged the 'Player of the Tournament'. The others to find the mark in the final were midfielder Khalid Siddiqui, and two Nigerian strikers Bala Usman and Austin Okolo.

It was refreshing to see the performances of Alberto, Siddiqui and Khalid Jamil, who was ruled out of the final due to an injury. Unlike the other top clubs in the country, which rely heavily on the foreign recruits, Mahindra proved an exception as the trio shared the burden with assurance.

Alberto and Siddiqui proved tough customers for Churchill, especially when stopper Osumanu Husseni was shown the red card in the 12th minute. The Ghanaian was given the marching orders for handling a goal-bound effort by Nigerian Bernard Oparonozie. It was a double blow as Churchill also conceded a spot-kick, which was converted by Alberto.

The 26-year-old Jules Alberto, who scored twice in the final, was adjudged the 'Player of the Tournament'.-RAJEEV BHATT

Churchill's defence, which had conceded only four goals in the first phase of the NFL, was in tatters. To make the matters worse, its Ghanaian goalkeeper Edward Ansha had rather a forgettable day.

Down 0-1, Churchill did well to stay in contention till the last minute of the first half. But a costly mistake by Ansha, who failed to stop Siddiqui's 20-yard left-footer, started the slide.

The last quarter proved dreadful for Churchill as Mahindra scored three goals in a span of nine minutes. Alberto, shockingly unmarked near the top of the box, scored before Okolo and Usman completed the tally.

Even in the semifinal, Mahindra proved too good for Indian Telephone Industries (ITI), Bangalore with a 3-0 verdict. The Mumbai side's ploy to play with five players in the defence worked out to perfection as it managed to keep ITI's trio of Mohammad Salissu, George Ekeh and Mike Okoro in check.

But what stood out in its victory was the way Mahindra scored three goals with limited resources to pull it off with ease. Alberto, S. Venkatesh and Okolo were the scorers. In all, Mahindra scored 12 goals, including a 4-1 win over qualifier Border Security Force and a goalless draw against F. C. Kochin in the quarterfinal league.

Even as Churchill had an indifferent final, its two latest foreign recruits Yusif Yakubu and Iran's Amin Sayed Mousavi proved to be the big attraction for the local fans. Mousavi, playing in his first tournament, impressed not only with his shooting but also with his ability to create openings.

Churchill, which reached the final for the first time, ousted East Bengal 2-1 in the semifinal. Ratan Singh scored a brace, including a fantastic match-winner in the 87th minute.

For East Bengal, which has struggled in the season so far, its inconsistency again came to the fore. Though it did well to get past Salgaocar 2-1 in the league to reach the semifinals, it was shocked by Ratan's fine effort. The Kolkata side, which introduced I. M. Vijayan and Jo Paul Anchery in the second half against Churchill, scored through Chandan Das.

The biggest attraction of the tournament was Mohun Bagan's Jose Ramirez Barreto. And the Brazilian did not disappoint the fans as he performed a hat-trick in 3-1 win over JCT.

Even as Barreto came up with a superb free-kick against ITI in its final league match in the three-team group, Mohun Bagan paid dearly for its shaky defence. ITI, which needed a win to make it to the knock-out stage, scored the decisive goal through Salissu in the closing stages.

The quarterfinal league, in which 12 teams were divided in four groups, included nine teams figuring in the National football league. Like Mahindra, Churchill Brothers hardly faced any resistance from the AIFF under-19 and Army XI in reaching the semifinals.

It was only on the final day of the league when the contests became lively. ITI pulled off a fine win over Mohun Bagan while East Bengal defeated Salgaocar 2-1 to reach the last four stage.

The organising committee chose Tapan Ghosh (Mahindra), Subhash Chaudhary (AIFF under-19), Chandan Das (East Bengal), Sunil Chhetri (City Club) and L. Angan Shangai (Army XI) as the five promising players.

The results:

Final: Mahindra United 5 (Jules Alberto 2, Khalid Siddiqui, Austin Okolo and Bala Usman) bt Churchill Brothers 0.

Semifinals: Mahindra 3 (Jules Alberto, S. Venkatesh, Okolo) bt ITI 0; Churchill 2 (Ratan Singh) bt East Bengal 1 (Chandan Das).