Chirag United created history by winning the prestigious Durand Cup defeating JCT Phagwara in their maiden Final appearance. What makes their triumph special is the unprecedented feat of winning the trophy without conceding a single goal in the entire tournament. As predicted in TheHardTackle preview, the Final match was an evenly fought contest which went down to the wire, finally a 76th minute strike by Mohammed Rafiq sealed the fate in favor of the Kolkata club. Mohammed Rafiq deserves special mention for scoring the winning goal for his club in both the Semi Final and the Final match.
The Evergreen Star of Durand Cup:
Flashback : 36 years ago, in the year 1974, a young skillful fighter wearing the famous Red&Maroon jersey had won thousands hearts at the Ambedkar Stadium in this very same tournament. Even three decades later, the same guy remains the prime star attraction in the Durand Cup. He is none other than the ten times Durand Cup Champion – 8 times as a Mohun Bagan player and twice as a coach – Subrata Bhattacharya. He has a special place in his heart for Durand Cup – as this was the tournament which had brought him nationwide fame and recognition as a player. But this trimph as the Chirag United coach, will always remain very close to his heart. Not even the hardcore Chirag fan would have expected the underdogs to win the coveted crown; but it was Subrata, who had the belief in the team and was able to translate the self belief among his brave soldiers. And as they say, the rest is history – hats off to Mr. Subrata Bhattacharya.
Goal of the Tournament: Penn Orji (East Bengal)
Just before the stroke of the final whistle in East Bengal’s last group stage match against Salgaocar, the Red&Gold craftsman Penn Orji took the possession of the ball around 40 yards out from the Salgaocar goal. He then dribbled past three Salgaocar defenders and unleashed a right footed screamer from the edge of the penalty area; Salgaocar goalkeeper could only helplessly watch the ball sailing into the top right corner. It was an outstanding finish and the spectators will remember this beautiful goal for years to come.
Save of the Tournament: Sandip Nandy (East Bengal)
The second Semi Final between East Bengal and their city rival Chirag was intensly poised at 0-0 with both the teams making a series of positive attacking moves. In the 56th minute, Denson Devadas got hold of a misplaced pass on the right of the midfield and released the ball forward diagonally for the unmarked Subhash Chakraborty on the edge of the East Bengal box. Subhash took couple of touches before unleashing a right footer which seemed destined for the top right corner; but East Bengal’s veteran custodian Sandip Nandy was equal to the task. He made a flying acrobatic save to tip the ball over the goal-bar to keep his team’s hopes alive against his former club.
Most Valuable Player of the Tournament: Mohammed Rafiq (Chirag)
Durand Cup was a star-studded affair this time around. In the presence of I-League superstars like Churchill’s Odafa Okolie, East Bengal’s Tolgay Obzey, Penn Orji, Mehtab Hussain; Salgaocar’s Yusif Yakubu, Ryuji Sueoka, Pune FC’s Arata Izumi, Edmar, Keita etal, nobody expected an unknown teenager to steal all the limelight. Mohammed Rafiq has become a household name in Indian football after his exploits in this tournament. His 76th min strike ended East Bengal’s 19 match winning streak in the semi final, before another brilliant strike in the final against JCT sealed the match and the trophy for Chirag United.
Team of the Durand Cup: –
Abhijit Mondal (Chirag)
It’s not a difficult choice at all. Winner of four I-League crowns for Dempo, Abhijit has been immense for Chirag in this tournament. He produced scintillating displays against Pune FC, East Bengal and JCT and remained unbeaten throughout the tournament. –
Naoba Singh (East Bengal), Chica Wali (Chirag), Omolaza Karim (JCT), Naru Gopal Haite (Chirag)
For the right back positing, East Bengal’s Naoba Singh fits the bill perfectly, ahead of JCT’s Rahul Kumar. Naoba has also contributed to East Bengal’s attack, without compromising his defensive duties. He will be partnered by Chirag’s Naru Gopal Haite on the opposite flank. It’s unfortunate that we could not accommodate East Bengal’s Uga Okpara as a centre back, he has performed admirably for the Red&Gold brigade. But JCT’s Omolaza Karim and Chirag’s Chica Wali both are more deserving and they will form the central back partnership in this team. –
Denson Devadas (Chirag), Mehtab Hussain, Penn Orji (both East Bengal), KeKe Ibrahim (JCT)
East Bengal’s Mehtab Hussain and Penn Orji, perhaps the best midfield combo in the country at this moment, will take over the central midfield responsibility. Mehtab Hussain will play as a deep lying playmaker; like Andrea Pirlo or Xabi Alonso; while Penn excels in the attacking midfielder’s role. Both of them complements each other well and this combination will provide the perfect balance between attack and defense.
For providing width to this midfield, Chirag’s Denson Devadas and JCT’s Keke Ibrahim will serve as the wingers. Devadas’s marauding runs and excellent dribbling skill will pose danger for the opposition full back. Ibrahim is not a natural forward, but he can play as a winger or even as a central midfielder. Ibrahim has been the vital contributor for JCT in this tournament, scoring two and assisting in two other goals. His vision of the game and goalscoring ability will be an added advantage.
Tolgay Ozbey (East Bengal), Mohammed Rafiq (Chirag)
East Bengal’s Tolgay Ozbey’s consistency in scoring goals has made him an automatic choice. He is in red hot form this season scoring 15 goals for East Bengal in 17 appearances. In the Durand cup, he finds himself in the score-sheet against Air India and Salgaocar. Tolgey scored a brace against Air India and the winning goal against Salgaocar. His absence cost East Bengal dearly in the semi final match against Chirag, ultimately putting an end to their 19 match winning streak.
The selection of the second striker is a pretty difficult task. Churchill talisman Odafa Okolie has scored five goals in this Durand Cup, including a brilliant hattrick against Army Red. Chirag’s Joshimar da Silva Martins has also scored a hattrick against Air India. But our choice is Joshimar’s strike partner and Chirag’s young sensation Mohammed Rafiq. He may have scored only two goals in the tournament, but both the goals have been very special. While his solitary strike knocked the favorite East Bengal out of the tournament; his goal against JCT sealed the first Durand Cup title for Chirag in their maiden final appearance.
Sandip Nandi (East Bengal), Uga Okpara (East Bengal), Subhash Chakraborty (Chirag), Odafa Okolie (Churchill)
Team of 2010 Durand Cup
Beginning of a New Era?
During the last few years, Bengal’s football has gone through a lean patch. Goa, Punjab, Kerala have started to pose challenge against Bengal’s dominance in Indian football. This season, Indian football’s Mecca has risen like a phoenix from the ashes of it’s glorious days. Santosh Trophy came in the Bengal cabinet for the first time in this decade. Then East Bengal brought the Federation Cup. Chirag completed the hattrick winning the Durand. Everything seems to be going as per the script for Kolkata football. All these years Kolkata football tradition has been revolving around two entities – East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. Chirag’s achievements has given it a all new dimension. Is it the beginning of a new golden era for the football crazy Kolkata? Only time will tell.