Very few Indian football fans would have predicted the outcome of Group A in IFA Shield correctly. With former winners East Bengal, Churchill Brothers and Mohammedan Sporting in this group, no one gave a chance to tiny Southern Samity. Some of them even tipped Shandong Club from China to progress from this group – foreign teams have done well in Shield in recent times.
There is proverb that ‘morning shows the day’, this poverb was very much applicable to the opening game of Group-A. East Bengal, the most successful team in IFA Shield and Federation Cup holders, faced off against Southern Samity. Southern had been languishing in 3rd division of Kolkata Football League just a few seasons back. Their performance in Kolkata Football League wasn’t impressive either and was marred by off-field issues. Southern managed to get itself promoted to 2nd division I-League by abiding with AFC criteria. The club had roped in former East Bengal, Mohun Bagan and Churchill Brothers coach Carlos Perreira. Players like Edmilson, Marcos Perreira and Chandan Das, all former players in big clubs have added quality to an otherwise mid-table team. East Bengal came to Shield with their reserve team as Trevor Morgan’s focus is on AFC Cup and I-League.
With two goals, Edmilson paved the way for Southern Samity to defeat his old club. Southern defeated East Bengal 2-1 in a match which saw two world class strikes. Ravinder Singh put East Bengal into the lead by scoring a screamer from 30 yards out. At that point it was looking the Red and Golds would win the match easily. However, Edmilson had other ideas. He started the rout with a spectacular volley from outside the penalty box. His second goal was a sublime finish from Chandan’s corner.
When Shandong Leung took the field on 15th March, it soon became clear that this was not their first team. The Chinese team’s quality was nowhere near that of some of the foreign teams that have graced the Shield in recent years. Their team was mainly made up of U-19 players who lack experience as well as maturity. Against Mohammedan Sporting, Shandong did start well, hitting the post within ten minutes. However, as the match progressed the Black and White brigade slowly took control. Korean midfielder Han Wook was a standout performer. Mohammedan was guilty of wasting some easy chances before Christopher scored on 86th minute to seal a 1-0 win for Sporting.
Shandong’s haplessness was more evident against Southern Samity. Southern dominated the match from start to end before Sowmi PT nudged in a free-kick from Chandan Das on 21st minute. After this win, it became increasingly likely that Southern Samity might qualify for semi-final.
Christopher scored four goals in four matches.
Mohammedan failed to build up on their win in the opening match as they went down 3-1 against Churchill Brothers. Churchill took the lead through Bineesh Balan after fourteen minutes but Mohammedan came back through a Christopher penalty in the 29th minute. The turning point came just before the lemon break when Mohd. Defender Debkumar Sashmal was ejected for an off the ball incident. Ten-man Mohammedan struggled to cope with Churchill’s pace as Lenny and Charan Rai sealed a 3-1 win for the Goan side.
East Bengal and Mohammedan faced off against each other in what is also called the “Kolkata Derby”. Both teams were struggling to maintain their existence in the competition. In a largely insipid match, none of the teams managed to play eye-catching football. Ravinder Singh was one of the more impressive players for East Bengal, but lacked support from his team-mates. Christopher scored his third goal in as many matches when he converted a spot kick in the second half. Baljit made it 1-1 and that was how the match ended. Han Wook got his second man of the match award after this match.
Churchill Brothers somewhat surprisingly, slumped to a 2-0 loss against Shandong Club. This result improved Southern Samity’s chances of progressing to semi-final. Mihao Lin and Shen Yung scored for the Chinese team.
On 21st March, 2011, Southern Samity created history. They became first club since Behala Youth in 1975 to reach Shield semi-final on debut. They held Mohammedan to a 1-1 draw, ensuring their passage to last four. Christopher scored his fourth goal in as many games before Jamir Ali leveled the scoreline for Southern.
East Bengal and Churchill Brothers faced each other in what would determine the other semi-finalist from Group A. Both teams fielded depleted squads and didnt perform up to expectations. Churchill Brothers dominated the proceedings and hit the post twice. In the end only one goal separated two teams, which was scored by Balan from the spot. East Bengal thus ended a forgettable Shield campaign.