Group-C lived up to the pre-tournament billingA�of being the “Group of Death”. Yuvabharati Krirangan witnessed some high intensity drama as the games unfolded to surprise one and all. At the end of match day 3, defending Champions East Bengal made their way to the semi-finals with two victories and a draw – thus collecting 7 points in total – 3 more than the points collected by second placed Pune FC. First of the three hurdles that the Red-&-Golds had to overcome in order to materialize their dream of securing a hat-trick of Fed Cup wins has been conquered, and it’s time for the Kolkata Giants to start preparing for the semi final and the final.

First Round: Pune Shock Dempo, East Bengal Somehow Salvage Pride

The opening match of Group-C was filled with a lot of drama. On paper, Dempo was the stronger of the two teams, but it was Pune FC who started off brightly. Mandjou Keita, Pune FC’s Guinean striker, stunned the Goan giants with a sublime finish to give the Red Lizards an early lead. Even before Dempo could recover from the shocking start, India international Jeje Lalpekhlua doubled the lead for Derrick Pereira’s army in the 20th minute. Dempo got only one realistic chance to reduce the margin, but Ranti Martins saw his curling effort brilliantly saved by Subrata Pal, thus the Red Army went for the breather leading by two goals to nil.

The awesome foursome – Mehtab, Gow, Robin, Tolgay

In the second half, it was a completely different story altogether. Dempo displayed an attacking brand of football and Pune FC players were looking completely clueless. However, the only exception was their reliable goalkeeper Subrata Pal, who made a number of breathtaking saves to keep his team’s lead intact. Although the flying Eagle was eventually brought down at the fag end of the match, when Peter Carvalho took full advantage of a defensive lapse to reduce the margin to 2-1, it was not enough for Dempo. Leaving behind the tag of “Poor Starters”, Pune FC registered one of their most remarkable wins against the Goan giants.

It was indeed a day of surprises. Not even the most die-hard fan of Mohammedan Sporting Club would have fancied their chances of snatching even a single point against the defending Champions East Bengal in their opening Group-C match. But to everyone’s surprise, Aloke Mukherjee’s underdogs converted a spot-kick to take a lead in the 17th minute. Although, in the first place, it was a howler by the referee to award the penalty to Mohammedan Sporting, as replays suggested that East Bengal custodian had made no contact with South Korean winger Han Wook, Nigerian Stanley Okoroigwe made no mistake to blast the ball past Sandip Nandy from the spot. Mohammedan managed to preserve their surprise lead up to the half-time mark, despite being under relentless pressure from the Red-&-Gold brigade.

Morgan made a tactical switch in the second half and introduced new recruit Alan Gow in place of an ineffective Penn Orji. The formation was also altered to a flexible 4-3-3 from 4-1-3-2. The changes paid off as Sanju Pradhan, who was wearing the captain’s armband for the first time in his career, made the occasion memorable by leveling the score-line with a sublime long range pile driver in the 46th minute. East Bengal tried their best to break the dead-lock, but gritty defending by the Black Panthers meant that they had to settle for just a point.

Second Round: East Bengal Two Good For Pune, Dempo Outclass Mohammedan

It was a do or die match for Trevor James Morgan’s Red-&-Gold brigade and they did not disappoint the 20 thousand East Bengal faithfuls present at the Yuvabharati stands by producing a highly disciplined performance. Morgan made as many as six changes to the first XI, which had started against Mohammedan. Last season’s top scorer Tolgay Ozbey making way for Alan Gow in the first XI was a very tough call, but Morgan’s vision was vindicated as Gow walked away with the man of the match award in his first ever start for the Kolkata-based team. East Bengal dominated the first half proceedings and went for the breather with a goal’s lead – thanks to Alan Gow’s 42nd minute strike.

The Red Lizards leveled the score 10 minutes after the break through Jeje Lalpekhlua, but Morgan’s tectical brilliance to sacrifice Uga Okpara and introduce an attackingA�3-4-3 strategy with a Gow-Robin-Tolgay three-pronged attack proved to be too hot for the visitors’ defense to handle.A�Robin Singh restored East Bengal’s lead with approximately 7 minutes remaining on the clock to put the game beyond Pune FC’s reach.

Having lost the first match against Pune FC, the game against Mohammedan was a must win match for Dempo as well. While a Bengali goalkeeper (read Subrata Pal) made them to suffer a lot in the previous game against Pune FC by pulling off some unbelievable saves, it was time for another Bengali goalkeeper to repay that debt. Three howlers by Mohammedan’s experienced goalkeeper Naseem Akhtar helped the Blue Goan army to register a comfortable 3-1 victory which also kept their chances of making it through to the last four stage afloat. Three first half goals by Ranti Martins, Clifford Miranda and Koko Sakibo helped them to sail to an unassailable 3-0 lead and even though Stanley was able to reduce the margin with just about 25 minutes remaining on the clock, it was not enough and Dempo survived to live for another day.

Third Round: East Bengal Secure Semi Final Berth, Pune FC Finish A Distant Second

Finally, it was time for the much anticipated, mouth-watering clash between the giants of Indian football. It was also the prestige battle between Bengal and Goa when East Bengal took on Dempo SC in a virtual knock-out tie at the colossal Yuvabharati Krirangan. The game lived up to the pre-match hype as both the teams, desperate for a win,A�displayed an attacking brand of football.

East Bengal started off as the more dominant side andA�pressed hard for an early lead, but theA�Toly-RolyA�strike pair, combining together for the very first time in the season, wereA�guilty of wasting quite a few decent opportunities.A�Dempo’s strategy was to soak all the pressure and try to hit East Bengal hard on the break. They managed to catch the Red-&-Golds defense off-guard with quick counter attacks. However, Uga Okpara-led East Bengal defense was up to the task and did admirably well to keep Ranti Martins, the highest scorer of last I-League campaign, and his new strike partner Koko Sakibo completely in check. On the other end of the pitch, Penn Orji was able to beat his marker and slot the ball past Subhashish, but the linesman had his flag up for an alleged offside – although replays suggested otherwise.A� A goal-less stalemate was the outcome of the first 45 minutes which was packed with end-to-end action.

Just like the game against Pune FC, Trevor Morgan once again showed shrewd tactical acumen when he made three substitutions right at the hour mark and transformed the team to a 3-4-3 formation. Since then, it was all East Bengal. Dempo defense had a tough time handling the relentless pressure created by East Bengal’sA�excellent wing-play and Mehtab Hussain, once-again the pick of the players in the Red-&-Gold midfield, provided some eye-catching, defense-splitting through balls for his strikers to poach on.A�Robin Singh scored that illusive goal in the 69th minute, when Tolgay Ozbey provided him with a clever back-pass after making a daunting run down the right wing, to send the Yuvabharati crowd in to a frenzy. Replays suggested that the ball might have touched Baljit Shani, who was in an offside position,A� before crossing the goal-line, but the referee Pratap Singh did not listen to Dempo players’ protests and the goal stood. ‘Champion’s Luck’ also favored East Bengal just before the final whistle, when a penalty appeal for an unintended handball against Tolgay Ozbey’s was ruled out by the referee.

The solitary goal was enough for Morgan’s men to see off Dempo’s challenge and book their semi final slot. Dempo might consider themselves a little unlucky, but nobody could deny the fact that in the end the more deserving team made it through to the knock-out stage. The Red-&-Golds are now firmly on track to clinch their hattrick of Federation Cup wins and they will be confident of continuing their winning run when they take on Group DA�winners in the semi-final scheduled to be played onA�26th September at the fortress Yuvabharati turf.

East Bengal’s win over Dempo in the first match of the day made the last Group-C match between Pune FC and Mohammedan Sporting a mere formality. However, both the team wanted to end their campaign in a prosperous note and hence the game was expected to be a much more exciting affair instead of being a dead rubber. In the end, by playing out a goal-less stalemate with Mohammedan Sporting,A�Pune FC ensured themselves of a second place finish in the group -A�sandwiched between the two giants, East Bengal and Dempo SC.

Eyeing a hat-trick of Fed Cup crowns – the Red-&-Gold Brigade

Best Goal: Alan Gow (East Bengal) v Pune FC

There are goals, and then there are beauties. Alan Gow’s first goal on Indian soil would be remembered by the Red-&-Gold fans for years to come. Naoba Singh played a diagonal ball from the right wing, across the width of the pitch, towards Gow on the left wing. The Scottish striker trapped the ball beautifully before going past one defender and unleashed a magical left-footed curler towards the far post, which went past a diving Amrinder Singh in the Pune FC goal to give East Bengal a deserved lead.

Best Save: Subrata Pal (Pune FC) v Dempo SC

SubrataA�Pal was in sublime form in Pune FCA�’s remarkable 2-1 win A�over Dempo SC in the openingA�Group-C encounter.A�He produced no less than half-a-dozen superb saves to prove his authority as the number one goalkeeper in the country. It’s difficult to pick only one, but the double save off Ranti Martins and Climax LawranceA�was out of the world. First, he showcased his excellent reflexes by diving to his left toA�deny Martins from very close range.A�The rebound fell to Climax Lawrence, who was unmarked at the edge of the box. Climax fired a thumping drive towards the far right corner, but Subrata recovered well in time and showed great anticipation while making another acrobatic stop.

Best Player: Mehtab Hussain (East Bengal)

The “Double Cylinder” was unarguably the most consistent player in the group stage. He did not try to do anything flashy,A�and stuck to the basics. What sets him apart is his incredible work-rate.A�He was all over the park, contributing equally to both the attacking and defensive departments. Wherever the ball went, Mehtab followed it. It was the kind of performance which has made him the heart-throb of East Bengal faithful and if he can continue in similar fashion, the Red-&-Golds have a realistic hope of securing their third successive Federation Cup crown.

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  • FootballFan

    No mention that East Bengal’s goal was clearly offside and Dempo was denied a stone wall penalty ? 😛 Every newspaper has reported it today, English as well as Bengali. Come on HardTackle be a little more neutral…

  • Aniket Mondal

    @MachaFan, I am surprised that you missed to point out the legitimate goal scored by Pen Orji which was wrongly ruled out for offside. Neutral? Huh! Practice before you preach!

  • soumen dhar

    Where are group b and d reviews?