Kyaw Thu Ra does the star turn

KYAW THU RA could not have been of greater help as a substitute for the Finance and Revenue Football Club (FRFC) of Myanmar.

AMITABHA DAS SHARMA

KYAW THU RA could not have been of greater help as a substitute for the Finance and Revenue Football Club (FRFC) of Myanmar. The striker's 118th minute goal — coming just two minutes from the completion of extra-time — gave a miraculous twist to the script. Thus helping his team claim its first international title in many years. Ra's effort — a finely swerved right-footer taken from a tight angle — erased memories of the goal-shyness of his team-mates in the final of the 110th IFA Challenge Shield and let the Myanmarese club draw 1-1 with the defending champion Mohun Bagan. With the tie-breakers enforced thereafter, the shoot-outs saw the home favourite chickening out and FRFC registering a 5-3 victory.

The jubilant Finance and Revenue Football Club, Myanmar which won the IFA Shield. — Pic. PTI-

There was more to it than a mere victory for the visitors as the triumph brought memories of a forgotten chapter from the annals of one of the oldest tournaments in the world. It was all about an unrealised venture that came true after 75 years. The predecessors of the same Revenue club — Rangoon Customs of the erstwhile Burma — had made the first attempt at the title in 1929 but had to be content being the runner-up to the Royal Ulster Rifles (second battalion), which won the final 2-0. The triumph marked a successful emergence from a prolonged hibernation for the sport in Myanmar, which had shunned international exposure all these years.

The final, while depicting a glorious resurgence for the foreign team, recounted a sad story for the home team. One defensive lapse proved too costly for Mohun Bagan, whose dream of lifting the prestigious Shield for the 21st time got shattered. The home fans had already started celebrating after the Brazilian Roberto Mendes Silva had put the team up just as the extra-time started after a barren regulation time. But when the Ra shocker came in the final minutes, the tiring limbs of Bagan's players failed to allow the revelry at the stands extend to a justified end, completely messing up the shooting in the tie-breakers. Mohun Bagan, which had drawn 1-1 with the same opponent in the group league stage, thus failed to overcome the arrears in the end. Bagan which had created history 93 years ago by becoming the first Indian club to win the crown beating the British East York Regiment, has failed to repeat the feat.

The events leading to the final saw an interesting mix with the claimant of the National Football League title, Kingfisher East Bengal, leaving behind a pastel performance to bow out in the semifinals. It was arch-rival Mohun Bagan which snared the faltering Kingfisher before winning through `sudden death'. The regulation and extra-time ended 1-1 as both teams missed several chances (Bagan leading the count) while availing only one each. Bagan got the lead through a 41st minute penalty scored by Roberto while East Bengal equalised through Malswamtluanga in the 60th minute. With Baichung Bhutia recuperating from an operated knee, East Bengal's attack looked deficient with its new Brazilian recruit, Paolo Da Silva, who muddled a few scoring opportunities including a 43rd minute penalty. The tie-breakers failed to separate the rivals as each side got the five stipulated attempts from the spot right before Bagan custodian Prasanta Dora saved Surya Bikash Chakraborty's shot to clinch the issue for Bagan 8-7 in sudden-death. The process to separate the city giants consumed more than 180 minutes — the time needed to complete two matches in normal course — thanks to a 17-minute power cut in the stadium that worsened the situation. The inconsistent power supply in the stadium, which brought international disgrace during India's World Cup qualifying match against Japan barely a month ago, is apparently becoming a scourge for matches conducted under lights.

FRFC's Zaw Htike (No. 8) is about to fall after failing to connect a pass in the final against Mohun Bagan. -- Pic. AFP-

The Myanmar champion realised the route to the final with a greater show of confidence that amply reflected in the 3-1 scoreline it brought out against the local challenger Mohammedan Sporting. While the conditions seemed to favour the home side as intermittent rains had rendered the turf heavy, the visitors hardly gave any hint of cringing in the slushy conditions and dominated the show right from the kick-off. The essay of goals started in the 35th minute when the nippy midfielder of the Revenuemen, Aung Kyaw Moe, bulged the Sporting net with a cracking pile-driver.

The second session kept the scoreboard busy as the visitors doubled the lead in the 71st minute through its super-sub Kyaw Thu Ra before the home side pulled one back in the 73rd minute getting Naushad Moosa to score from a penalty. The issue was finally clinched by FRFC in the 80th minute when its captain Myo Hlaing Win put the final stamp of authority scoring the second penalty of the match. Mohammedan Sporting had done beyond expectations progressing to the semifinals, where the team clearly fell behind on quality and ability compared to the Revenuemen.

Chukwukeri Henry's shot is well collected by goalkeeper Aung Aung Oo in the semifinal match between Mohammedan Sporting and FRFC. -- Pic. PARTH SANYAL-

The foreign participation, FRFC apart, in the meet could better be forgotten for the dismal performance of the other two teams — Muktijoddha Sangshad of Bangladesh and the Renown Sports Club of Sri Lanka. Together the two teams digested 25 goals while scoring only two from own efforts to have unceremonious exits in the first stage — the group league. The worst came from the Lankans who created a record for all the wrong reasons getting pummeled by both its group `A' opponents, Mohun Bagan (0-9) and FRFC (1-10). Conceeding 19 goals in two matches put Renown as the worst foreign outfit to have ever participated in the 110-year-old tournament. The group `A' standings were thus dictated by the team which could score more against Renown and the Myanmarese outscored the defending champion on this count. There was a two-way tie on the top of the group as Bagan and FRFC tied on four points having drawn 1-1 in the tournament opener. While the points and goal difference failed to separate the two opponents, FRFC nudged to the top on having scored one extra against Renown. The undecided rivalry between Bagan and FRFC continued till the end with the penalties settling the score in the final.

Group `B' action was dominated by East Bengal, which collected full points outclassing Mohammedan Sporting (4-1) and Muktijoddha (3-0) to become the first team to reach the semifinals. There was competition for the second spot and Mohammedan Sporting, an underperformer in the local league, played one good match to beat the Bangladesh Muktijoddha 3-1 in the concluding group `B' match and moved into the last four stage. Sporting's march into the semis was marked by a great show of character as the team overcame a goal's deficit, incurred in the first half, before turning the tables on Muktijoddha with three second session goals.

Asim Biswas (No. 12) of Mohun Bagan nets the ball during the tiebreaker penalty shoot-out against East Bengal in the semifinals. -- Pic. PARTH SANYAL-

For the record in the semifinals, FRFC 3 (Aung Kyaw Moe 35th, Kyaw Thu Ra 71st, Myo Hlaing Win 79th-penalty) beat Mohammedan Sporting 1 (Naushad Moosa 73rd-penalty) and Mohun Bagan 8 (1) (Roberto Mendes Silva 41st-penalty) defeated East Bengal 7 (1) (Shylo Malswamtluanga 60th) in sudden-death.