Well-deserved victory

Some members of the East Bengal team with the Federation Cup.-PICS: AKHILESH KUMAR

Edmilson Marques was East Bengal’s hero, knocking in both the goals in the final against Mahindra United. Vijay Lokapally reports.

Some members

Indian football was showcased in a compact Federation Cup package (September 4-15) in Ludhiana, a town famous for manufacturing automotive parts, machines and machine tools. Poor spectator response was a sore point of the tournament, but then, this disturbing trend is quite rampant in the rest of the country too.

The Federation Cup, staged less than a week after the Nehru Cup ended, raised a lot of expectations from the players, as the top 16 teams of Indian football arrived at the richest town in Punjab. However, the quality of football on display, sadly, did not match the expectations.

The foreign players on view did not disappoint though. Ever since the time when the two Iranians, Jamshed Nassiri and Majid Baskar, thrilled the fans with their electrifying football in the 1980s, there has been a dearth of classy players from overseas.

Of course, Chima Okerie dominated the Indian football scene with his aggressive style of playing — he was the top scorer of the Calcutta League six times — but the magic that Baskar brought to the game remained unmatched. Nassiri, of course, was rated high for his workmanlike approach — a brilliant goal-getter, he was.

The Federation Cup this time had its share of foreigners displaying their class. It began with Eduardo Escobar on the opening day when he put in a scintillating display. But the Brazilian failed to maintain his form and JCT fell by the wayside in the next round.

Edmilson Marques scripted East Bengal’s victory. The Calcutta giant won the Federation Cup after a gap of 10 years, and the prolific Brazilian striker knocked in both the goals in the final against Mahindra United. In three matches, Edmilson slammed six goals. He could have scored a few more had he not missed the game against Mohun Bagan owing to a muscle tear.

The Calcutta teams, of late, had been at the receiving end as the clubs from Goa made big progress. But with the Federation Cup triumph, East Bengal’s pride has been restored. And one of the persons responsible for the club’s revival is its astute coach Subrata Bhattacharya. He reminded his players that control came from self-confidence and East Bengal’s triumph was a tribute to the faith the coach had in his players.

“It was actually the faith our supporters showed in our team that motivated us all,” said a modest Bhattacharya. But then he was gifted with a bunch of players who had come to understand the situation better than most. East Bengal thrived on its bench strength, and also some astonishing work by the goalkeeper Subrata Paul. Clearly, East Bengal was well prepared for the tournament and it reflected in the organised manner in which it played. Players such as Jayanta Sen, Dipendu Biswas, Asim Biswas, Syed Rahim Nabi and Alvito D’Cunha showed remarkable consistency.

Mahindra United’s Sukhwinder Singh tries to thwart Roberto Silva of Dempo in the semifinals. The Mumbai outfit surprised everyone to enter the final.-

The other outstanding performers among the foreign players were Ranty Martins and Edeh Chidi of Dempo Sports Club. The two charismatic Nigerians gave their opponents a harrowing time. A pity that their striking power deserted them in the semifinal against Mahindra United. The match went into the penalties where Dempo came a cropper.

That Martins and Chidi made inroads into the rival area with consummate ease reflected poorly on the defenders. Mahesh Gawli and Samir Naik were glorious exceptions, but then they happened to be on the same side as the two swift and strong Nigerians. “He is a rock. I have not seen such a fine defender in years,” commented former great Inder Singh on Gawli.

Jose Barreto, the wily Brazilian, lent thrust to the Mohun Bagan campaign with his innovative style. His ball control and ability to release it at the most opportune time was outstanding. This often left the opponents nonplussed.

Barreto’s towering presence was one of Mohun Bagan’s strong points, just as Edmilson’s incisive runs were for East Bengal.

Mahindra United may have surprised itself by making it to the final where it was outplayed by East Bengal. Defence remained its driving force with K. Ajayan, Susanth Mathew, Steven Dias and N. P. Pradeep playing superbly.

Mohun Bagan lost to East Bengal in a fiery encounter. Bhaichung Bhutia played his heart out in the second half, but ended up on the losing side.

JCT played poorly against East Bengal in the quarterfinal, drawing scathing criticism from its supporters. “Our star players looked out of place,” conceded the team’s coach Sukhwinder Singh. He was clearly disappointed with Sunil Chhetri, Renedy Singh and Escobar.

The first-round losers, Vasco Sports Club, Mohammedan Sporting, Army XI, HAL Sports Club, Air India, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, Chirag United and Salgaocar, had nothing much to offer.

Sporting Clube de Goa, Viva Kerala, JCT and Churchill Brothers bowed out in the quarterfinals. The semifinals offered varied stuff with East Bengal playing vintage football. The club kept up the good work in the final too.