[From The Archive]
The most successful Indian club side against their foreign counterparts, Kingfisher East Bengal FC, has brought a number of glorious moments for Indian football fans to treasure and cherish. This magnificent trend of performing well against foreign clubs started way back in 1948, when the club defeated Chinese Olympic XI 2-0 in a friendly match, which also marks East Bengal’s first ever exposure to the international level. The Chinese Olympic XI was not an ordinary side; it was a pretty strong team consisting of the best available talents in China, who represented the country in 1948 London Olympics. Legendary Red-&-Gold soldiers and members of the famous East Bengal “Panchapandavas“, Appa Rao and PBA Saleh were the scorers for East Bengal in this debut foreign victory.
This victory was a moral boosting tonic for the Indian players and it had laid the foundation for several amazing triumphs for the club in immediate and distant future. Since then East Bengal inherited an affluent heritage in producing winning results against stronger foreign club sides. In totality, East Bengal club has so far notched up 153 wins against their foreign counterparts. Among these 153 triumphs, 68 victories came in competitive matches while the rest belongs to the friendly category. TheHardTackle analyzes these 68 competitive victories and lists down the top five glorious wins in chronological order.
1. East Bengal 1-0 PAS Club, Iran – IFA Shield, 1970
It was a historic moment for Indian football. This Red-&-Gold victory is the first ever victory by an Indian club against a foreign side in a competitive match, since independence. Legendary footballer and the country’s most successful coach – P.K. Banerjee – was managing the Red-&-Gold brigade during those days and with skillful players like Peter Thangaraj, Shanto Mitra, Shyam Thapa, Surajit Sengupta, coupled with PK’s famous Vocal Tonic, East Bengal became the indomitable force in the country, clean-sweeping all major silverware.
Then came the 25th of September, 1970 – a magical moment, which would leave its impression and change the face of Indian football forever. East Bengal took on Iran’s PAS Club for the ultimate glory in 1970 IFA Shield Final in a vibrant Eden Gardens stadium amidst continuous cheering by 80,000 football fanatics. In those days Iran was a Asian football powerhouse and PAS Club was the Champions of Tehran Football League in 1967 and 1968. The club consisted of many of Iran National football team’s players, who participated in Iran’s 1968 AFC Asian Cup triumph. They also had a few quality foreigners from Soviet Union, Israel, El Salvador and Morocco with previous World Cup experience.
Not even the die-hard Red-&-Gold faithful would have expected a win against such illustrious counterparts, but the brave soldiers made the impossible possible, as a late strike by Parimal Dey in the second half injury time earned East Bengal a place in Indian football history. The mood was festive and the joyous East Bengal faithfuls lit up Eden Gardens with flaming torches [“Moshal“, the club symbol] in their hands and painted Eden Gardens in Red-&-Gold abir.
2. East Bengal 3-1 Leventis United, Nigeria – IFA Shield, 1986
The then Nigerian Premier League and FA Cup Champions and 1985 African Cup Winners Cup runner-up, Leventis United, a club based in Ibadan City in the state of Oyo, was one of the strongest club sides in the African continent during those days. East Bengal was clubbed with Leventis United in one of the 1986 IFA Shield group stage matches and not even the hard-core Indian football fanatic could have imagined before the kick off that the 17th of December, 1986 would go down in Indian football’s history book as another significant milestone achieved!
The fabled Red-&-Gold defender Shyamal Ghosh was at the helm of managerial affairs in those days. He was regarded as a shrewd tactician and his tactical brilliance coupled with the inspirational leadership of Manoranjan Bhattacharya – which would eventually turn out to be his last season as a player – motivated the Red-&-Gold brigade to produced one of their most scintillating displays of ruthless attacking football, as they demolished the star-studded and physically stronger Leventis United by a 3-1 margin. Biswajit Bhattacharya drew the first blood in this high profile match while Sudip Chatterjee and Ranjit Karmakar scored a couple more to conjure up one of the unforgettable victories in Indian football’s history.
3. East Bengal 6-2 Al-Zawra’a SC, Iraq – Asian Cup Winners Cup, 1993-94
Asian Cup Winners Cup, currently known as AFC Club Cup, was a tournament in which all the domestic league champions from AFC affiliated countries used to participate. From India, East Bengal participated in this prestigious tournament for a record 10 times. In the 1993-94 edition of the tournament, East Bengal was grouped with Iraq National League champions Al-Zawra’a SC. Al-Zawra’a was also Iraq’s FA Cup champion in the same year and they had many national players in their squad. Asian Footballer of the year 1988 – Ahmed Radhi, widely regarded as the best Iraqi player of all time, the scorer of Iraq’s only World Cup goal in the 1986 edition was the star attraction for Al-Zawra’a, in the 1993-94 Asian Cup Winners Cup.
East Bengal was considered to be the underdogs ahead of the first leg match scheduled to be played on the 6th of October, 1993, in Kolkata. However, the tables turned upside down when the two teams faced each other, as the Red-&-Gold brigade pumped in half-a-dozen goals in Al-Zawra’a coffin to notch up a memorable 6-2 victory. This win is considered to be one of the greatest victories for any Indian team against foreign club sides. One of the greatest football players of the modern generation in India, Carlton Chapman, was the main architect behind this memorable triumph, as he scored a brilliant hattrick in that match. The other three goals for East Bengal were scored by former Indian captain and legendary Bengali footballer Shishir Ghosh, Akil Ansari and Kumaresh Bhawal. For Al-Zawra’a, Mudhir Khalef Muhsim and Sahib Abbas Hassan scored the consolation goals.
4. East Bengal 1-0 Verdy Kawasaki, Japan – Asian Cup Winners Cup, 1997-98
In the 1997-98 Asian Cup Winners Cup, East Bengal hammered Tribhuvan Club, Nepal 8-0 in the home leg before thrashing them 3-0 at their own backyards to set up a second round clash against one of the strongest teams in Asia – Japan’s Verdy Kawasaki – currently re-branded as Tokyo Verdy. Verdy Kawasaki had won the inaugural edition of Japan’s J-League in 1993 and repeated the same feat in the following year. They also finished runner-up in 1995 edition of J-League.
That was the Asian Cup Winners Cup 1997-98’s second round home match for East Bengal. Earlier in the month, Verdy had notched up a comfortable 5-2 victory against East Bengal in their home tie. The only ray of hope for Red-&-Gold brigade ahead of the all important home match was a young but skillful striker – Baichung Bhutia – who had scored a brilliant brace in the away fixture and instilled the belief among the East Bengal players that they were capable enough to produce winning results even against the very best of Asian players. And the rest – as they say – is history, written in glorious Red & Golden letters.
The 8th of November, 1997, will always remain etched in the memory of Red-&-Gold supporters, as a gritty and spirited performance scripted a memorable 1-0 win for East Bengal against a way too superior Verdy Kawasaki side. Left full-back Samuel Omelo, who plied his trade for the Kenyan national team, scored the solitary goal of the match with a delightful header from a Baichung Bhutia free-kick. This victory against the Champions of 1987-88 AFC Asian Club Championship [currently re-branded as AFC Champions League] is regarded as one of the best ever wins in East Bengal’s glorious history.
5. East Bengal 3-1 BEC Tero Sasana FC, Thailand – LG ASEAN Cup Final, 2003
East Bengal clinched the 2002-03 edition of Indian National Football League, which earned them an opportunity to participate in 2003 ASEAN Club Championship, held in Jakarta, Indonesia. The top-12 clubs from South East Asia took part in this prestigious competition and they were clubbed into four groups. East Bengal qualified for the quarter final stage from Group D to face the local favorites Parsita Tangerang of Indonesia. Riding on a goal each from Baichung Bhutia and Bijen Singh, East Bengal defeated Parsita 2-1 to set up a semi final clash against the 2002 Indonesian Premier Division League Champions, Petrokimia Putra [Currently renamed as Gresik United].
After the regulation time as well as the extra time resulted in a 1-1 stalemate, East Bengal prevailed in a thrilling tiebreaker by 7-6 margin. Sandip Nandy, the Red-&-Gold custodian, was the hero of the night for East Bengal as he produced two superb saves in tie-breaker. Earlier in the match, Baichung Bhutia scored the equalizer for East Bengal in the 58th minute after Petrokimia Putra took an early lead in the 23rd minute through Jaenal Ichwan.
A tougher test was waiting for the Red-&-Gold brigade in the final, as they were all set to face one of the strongest club sides in Asia, AFC Champions League 2002-03 runner-ups BEC Tero Sasana of Thailand. Going into the match, played at Gelora Bung Karno International Main Stadium, Jakarta on 26th July, 2003 – BEC Tero was regarded as the clear favourites to clinch the coveted title.
Subhash Bhowmick was the man in charge of the Red-&-Gold brigade during those days and in a great tactical move, he started with an attacking 3-4-3 formation with Baichung Bhutia, Mike Okoro, and Bijen Singh as the three strikers upfront, supported by two attacking midfielders in Brazilian Douglas Da Silva and Alvito D’Cunha. East Bengal stunned the crowd favorites BEC Tero Sasana with sheer pace and one touch passing football. Douglas produced a gem of a performance in East Bengal midfield and provided an inch perfect, defense splitting through ball towards Mike Okoro in the 20th minute. The Nigerian striker made no mistake, as Red-&-Gold took a surprise lead.
A moment of individual brilliance saw Baichung Bhutia doubling East Bengal’s lead just after the break. Baichung snatched the ball from BEC Tero midfielder Thanongsak Pajakkta and dodged a defender inside out before he lost his footing inside the box. However, he regained his composure, made the goalkeeper come out of position and then rounded him off to find the back of the net with a clinical right footer.
Trailing by 0-2, in a bid to restore parity, BEC Tero went all out in attack and Panai Kongprapun reduced the deficit for the Thai National League Champions in the 58th minute. However a sublime goal by Alvito D’Cunha in the 69th minute restored East Bengal’s 2 goal cushion.
After scoring the 3rd goal, shrewd tactician Subhash Bhowmick played another tactical masterstroke and brought wing half Shashti Duley in wing back position, while striker Bijen Singh settled in the role of a defensive screen as East Bengal changed their formation to 4-1-3-2 and defended resolutely for the remaining 20 minutes to ensure their first ever trophy in Asian Club level.
Baichung Bhutia was adjudged the Man of the Match in the final and the Most Valuable Player in the competition. Baichung also finished the competition on another personal high, as he topped the scoring chart with as many as 8 goals to his name. With this historic triumph, the record book of Indian football had to be re-written as East Bengal became the first ever Indian club to win a prestigious continental level tournament, on foreign soil.