The group stage of the 32nd Federation Cup which kicked off on 21st September finally concluded yesterday after an exciting week of football. The group round ended without any major hiccups with East Bengal, Churchill Brothers, I-league champions Dempo SC and Mohan Bagan topping their respective groups and thereby qualifying for the last four. Here, we look back upon the group stage to see how the line-up to the semi finals got completed.
Group A – East Bengal
The defending champions who were clubbed together with Pune FC, HAL Bangalore and Air India made it to the semi finals with ease after securing three wins in the same number of matches. Ozbey, with a brace, starred for the Kolkata based club in their opening day 3-1 victory over Air India whereas HAL Bangalore also picked up three points after a narrow 1-0 win over Pune FC. After picking up their 2nd win against HAL, the red and gold brigade almost secured a birth for themselves in the semi finals. Heading into the last day of the group league matches, the club from Bangalore still had a mathematical chance of making it to the last four but East Bengal made sure that no such situation arises when they picked up their 3rd consecutive win and advanced into the semis with a perfect record.
Group B- Churchill Brothers
This group went down to the wire as the last day saw Churchill Brothers and Chirag United taking on each other. Both of them were tied at the top with four points each after their first two matches, the winner finally sailing through to the knockout-stage. The I-league runners up held a slight advantage heading into the final match day and needed just a draw to go through as they enjoyed a better goal difference. The Goan club managed to play a goalless draw against the Kolkata based club and reached the last four of the Federation Cup after Chirag United were denied couple of close penalty appeals much to the dismay of their fans. Before their final showdown both the clubs had made a solid start to their campaign with the Salcette based Goan club handing a 4-0 drubbing to Viva Kerala and Chirag United winning 1-0 against Sesa football academy. Day 2 saw all the four Group B teams sharing a point a piece, with both the matches ending in tame draws.
Group C- Dempo SC
The I-league defending champions Dempo qualified for the knockout stages of the Federation Cup after finishing the group stage with seven points from three games. In second place were ONGC, who, despite of ended on a winning note against the newly formed AIFF XI, failed to qualify for the next round chiefly due to the humiliating 2-5 defeat which they suffered on match day one in the hands of Dempo. The young boys of Delhi based AIFF XI finished on 3rd spot with four points. The biggest disappointment of the group were JCT, who in spite of playing on their home ground failed to secure a single win under their belt and ended at the bottom of the group with two defeats and a draw, the last one coming in their final group match against Dempo, the latter needing only a single point from the encounter to make it to the semis.
Group D- Mohan Bagan
Thirteen time champions Mohan Bagan demolished Salgaocar 6-1 on the final day of the group matches and wrote their name in the final spot of the semi finals . It was a must win game for Mohan Bagan who were trailing Salgaocar on goal difference before the final day, but Bagan who have shown in their glorious past that they are more than accustomed to handle such pressure situations, took Karim Bencherifa’s side to the cleaners with the help of hat-tricks from both Barreto and Muritala Ali respectively. The Green and Maroons put the match beyond the reach of their opponents in the first half itself after taking a 5-0 lead at the stroke of first forty five minutes. Salgoacar scored a consolation goal in the 83rd minute but Bagan restored their five goal advantage when Ali completed his hat trick in the 90th minute. Shillong and Mumbai FC, who had failed to muster up a win in their previous two matches played a stalemate and ended up with 2 points each at the bottom of the table.
Sparks and tempers are bound to fly when, arguably the four most popular football clubs from the two craziest footballing regions of India collide. Two legendary clubs from Bengal and I-league top two finishers line up in the semi finals for the Federation Cup- it certainly doesn’t get better than this.
Semi Final 1: East Bengal vs. Churchill Brothers
Semi Final 2: Dempo SC vs. Mohan Bagan