Mohun Bagan, the pre-tournament favourites were unceremoniously dumped out of the Federation Cup after losing their first two games. Let us take a look at Group A, which was dominated by teams from the North East. The new order of Indian football outsmarted the established names.

First Round: Royal Shock for Mohun Bagan

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Mohun Bagan was one of the pre-tournament favourites owing to their wonderful track record in Fed Cup and high profile summer signings. Their first match was against Carlton Chapmana��s Royal Wahingdoh a�� tournament debutantes. Steve Darby fielded his 3-4-1-2 formation with Jose Ramirez Barreto playing behind Sunil Chhetri and Odafa Okolie.

Mohun Bagan started the match brightly with the five-man midfield dominating Royala��s midfield. Barreto was in exceptional form and linked up the striker duo with the rest of the midfield. Enjoying almost 80% ball possession, Bagan created several chances in the first half a�� Sunil Chhetri hit the post twice while Barreto struck the cross-piece once. Odafa also got two good chances but failed to get past the Royal goalkeeper.

The complexion of the match changed dramatically after interval. Royal wingers began to exploit the lack of width and pace of Mohun Bagana��s three man defense line. Four minutes into the second half, Singh whipped in a cross towardsA�Sikkimese strikerA�Chenco who gave Royal Wahingdoh a 1-0 lead.

Mohun Bagan were still reeling from the shock of the first goal when Chenco turned in another cross from Boy to make it 2-0. Bagana��s troubles were further compounded when India international N Pradeep was sent off. Ashim Biswas managed to pull one goal back with fifteen minutes to go, but could not prevent Royal from taking the win. This was undoubtedly one of the biggest upsets in Fed Cup history.

Churchill Brothers showed no signs of missing Odafa Okolie as the Goan team brushed aside Lajong FC with a 3-1 scoreline. Both teams started cautiously in a goalless first half. In the second half, Churchilla��s Portuguese coach Manuel Gomes used a more offensive approach as his team reaped immediate rewards. Dempo legend Beto struck a typical free-kick to put Churchill Brothers 1-0 around the hour mark.

The next big thing?

The team from Shillong came back strongly to level scores on 70th minute through Boithang. Churchill Brothers were not to be denied all three points as ND Opara crossed towards Henry Arnaud for their second goal. Opara himself found the net with three minutes remaining on the clock, guiding Churchill Brothers to a comfortable victory in their opening match.

Second Round: North Eastern Teams Stamp Authority

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Churchill Brothers squared off against Royal Wahingdoh in what would eventually turn out to be an extremely controversial match. Chapmana��s team took the lead around the half hour mark thanks to a low drive from Seityasen Singh. Seityasen was especially impressive during Royala��s all conquering performance in first round of I-League second division last season. Another player who was impressive in Division two was Jackychand Singh. It was Jackychand who made it 2-0 for Royal five minutes into the second half with a superb solo effort.

Churchill Brothers created a number of chances throughout the match but were let down by below par finishing. ND Opara, Henri and Beto missed easy chances, while Royal threatened on counter attacks with their fleet footed wingers. Steven Dias and Bineesh Balan were introduced in the second half and almost combined to score a goal within a couple of minutes. A foul on Balan led to Churchill getting a free-kick as Henri made the score 2-1 with the Goans pressing hard for an equalizer. They were pegged back on the 74th minute, though, when Beto received a dubious red card. Royal goalkeeper Pradhan made two brilliant saves into injury time to snatch another memorable win for the Shillong side.

Referee Amjad Khan came under a lot of criticism after this match, mostly because of allowing an incredible 15 minutes injury time at the end of the match. Football figures like Sukhwinder Singh and Karim Bencharifa who were present in the stadium mentioned that it shouldna��t have been more than 4-5 minutes. An irate Alemao Churchill threatened to complain to AIFF about the refereeing. This result effectively eliminated Mohun Bagan.

Mohun Bagan knew that they were eliminated before their match with Lajong FC and the players showed very little effort or motivation during the match. The three-man defence was once again over-run by fast counter attacks. The Green & Maroons failed to create enough chances unlike their first match. The ones created were often wasted incredibly by Odafa, Barreto and Ashim Biswas.

Lajong reach second semi-final

Just before half time, an inch perfect through ball released Lalhimthara who easily chipped Shilton Pal to give Lajong a 1-0 lead. Odafa Okolie, who cost Bagan two crore INR, scored his first goal in the Green and Maroon jersey just before the hour mark to level the scores. Lalramluaha assisted former Liberian captain John Menyongar, who re-established Lajonga��s lead in the 72nd minute. Shilton Pala��s howler three minutes from time released James Giblee who strolled into the open net to hand Lajong a 3-1 victory.

Final Round

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Mohun Bagan might have been eliminated from Federation Cup but each of the other three teams had a chance of progressing to the next round.

The following was the scenario before the final round.A�Royal Wahingdoh would qualify for semi-final should they avoid a loss against Lajong, regardless of other results. They still had a chance to qualify even if they lost, depending on goal difference (head-to-head records would be similar for all teams in this case).

Lajong could qualify if they defeated Royal and Churchill failed to win against Mohun Bagan. AndA�Churchill Brothers could qualify on goal difference if they beat Bagan and Lajong defeated Royal. Head-to-head records will be similar in this case also.

The prospect of reaching the semi-final on their debut seemed to have unnerved Chapmana��s team as they struggled to play in a similar rhythm like their first two matches. Lajong dominated most of the possession and deservedly took the lead in first half through John Menyongar. The match finished 1-0 to Lajong FC as they eagerly awaited for the outcome of Churchill Brothers’ match.

Churchill Brothers ensured that the team from Shillong reached their second Federation Cup semi-final in three seasons when they played out a 2-2 draw with Mohun Bagan. Churchill Brothers took the lead through Henri on 23rd minute. Mohun Bagana��s veteran captain Barreto showed his class once more in this match. He opened the scoring for Bagan five minutes before half-time from a corner. The Brazilian then assisted Sunil Chhetri before half time as Bagan went 2-1 up. Henria��s goal on the hour mark made the score 2-2. But that is how the match ended as both the big clubs in Group A finished empty handed.

Mohun Bagan had spent close to 14 crores to build this yeara��s team, but had to pay the price for a frail defence. Two teams which run on a fraction of their budget embarrassed Asiaa��s oldest club. It is incredible how despite spending so much money, Mohun Bagan still has to depend on Barreto to deliver the goods. Steve Darby might have to re-think his tactics if Bagan are to win silverware this season. Churchill Brothers, on the other hand, started strongly but had no answer to Royala��s pace in second match. New recruit Henri has shown good form in Fed Cup by scoring three goals.

Both the clubs will no doubt attempt their best to come back stronger after such damaging results early in the season. But for now, the smaller clubs are the toast of the nation as Lajong FC aim to complete a dream tournament by lifting the cup.

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One Response to “Federation Cup 2011 – Group A Review: Lajong FC Reach The Semi-Finals”

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  1. Vikram limbu says:

    if northeastern team can beat the indian heavyweights with a fraction of the budget, spent
    as for heavyweights’ the AIFF should utilize the potential of northeastern resource for the betterment of Indian Football performance !