Played in the back-drop of the Nehru Cup, the 125th edition of the Durand Cup had its own share of thrilling moments. TheHardTackle relives all the action from an exciting fortnight of football in Indian Football

The 125th edition of the Durand Cup will go down in the history as one of the least followed editions of the event. The 3rd oldest football tournament in the world and the oldest one in Asia was once a prominent event and attracted large crowds in the capital. However holding the event alongside the Nehru Cup meant that the event was hardly publicized and withdrawal by the top I-League clubs including holders Churchill Brothers was a further blow for the organizers.

This however gave chance to a lot of smaller teams to prove their mettle and announce their arrival on the big stage. The  semi-finalists included only 1 I-League team in form of Air India with Dodsal FC, SESA Academy and Assam Rifles being the other three teams.  With Air India defeating Dodsal in the final, TheHardTackle reviews the tournament and looks at the teams and individuals who stole the limelight.

Air India beat Dodsal in an Entertaining Final

The AIFF and the sponsors did their bit by organizing a cultural event in the finale where artists performed dance and music programs to entertain the spectators and draw in the crowd. They were somewhat successful as a crowd in excess of 10,000 gathered to witness the final.

The match started on a cautious note as ex-Dempo midfielder Micky Fernandez created a glorious chance by beating a couple of defenders but missed the target. Micky , who has been highly rated has joined the Airmen this season after the lack of playing time at Dempo. Dodsal FC coach raised quite a few eye brows when he decided not to start with Indian internationals N.P. Pradeep and Surkumar Singh. Pradeep was however brought into action in the 18th minute itself as Henry Gangte got injured.

Pradeep’s entrance provided an impetus to Dodsal FC as he tested Air-India defense from several set-pieces. Another new Airmen recruit, Souvik Chakraborty, was creating problems for Dodsal with his clever play. The score however remained 0-0 as the teams headed into half-time.

Tempo increased several notches in the second period but neither team was able to break the deadlock as the match headed into extra-time. Kali Alauddin of Dodsal FC was sent off in the 80th minute for a second yellow card and on came Surkumar Singh much to the delight of the crowd.

Air India : 2012 Durand Cup Winners

Air India : 2012 Durand Cup Winners

With Dodsal being reduced to 10 men, Air-India went on the offensive in the extra-time while Dodsal FC remained content in clearing the ball. As the match went to the penalty shoot-outs it was Air-India who held their nerves to clinch the final 3-2.  Quite shockingly, former national team players N.P. Pradeep, Surkumar Singh and Mohammad Rafi failed to score from the spots.

Keenly Contested Semi-Finals

The two semifinals were keenly contested and both had to be decided on the penalty shoot-outs. The tournament seemed to have come alive as all the four semi-finalists dished out impressive football and raised the standard of the tournament.

In the first semifinal between SESA Football Academy and Air-India, SESA took a 2-0 lead in the first half itself thanks to goals from Sunny Singh and Chukwudi Chukwuma, who has been in great form throughout the tournament. Air India however scored twice in the second half through M. Pradeep and Gagandeep Singh with the second goal coming in 4th minute of the injury time. The match went to extra-time and then to penalty-shootouts where Air India held their nerves to win 9-8.

The first half of the second semifinal between Assam Rifles and Dodsal FC saw a barren first half but the match lightened up after Rifles strikers Kamei gave them the lead in the 72nd minute. Former East Bengal player Sunil Kumar restored parity in the 80th minute. With either team failing to score in the extra-time, the match headed into penalty shoot-outs where Dodsal FC won to set up an all Mumbai final.

Arrows Show Signs of Promise

Pailan Arrows showed glimpses of what to expect from them in the coming season. Despite failing to make the cut, Arrows put in a spirited effort when they came from behind in both their matches. Trailing 1-0 in the opening match against Delhi United, Arrows went ahead through goals from Holicharan Narzary and Milan Singh though they conceded a late goal. Aviano Bag scored the goal against Air-India as the match ended 1-1. Despite sluggish conditions, Arthur Pappas’ boys displayed attractive brand of football.

Assam Rifles , SESA Academy Impress

SESA Football Academy - Impressing Everyone

SESA Football Academy – Impressing Everyone

SESA Football Academy, known to provide a lot of prominent players from big Goan clubs like Dempo, Salgaocar and Churchill, were drawn in group C with CRPF and the pre-tournament favourites Pune FC. SESA edged out CRPF team 3-2 in a thrilling match which saw all five goals being scored in the second half and then held Pune FC to a draw with Chukwudi Chukwuma equalizing for SESA in the injury time. Chukwudi Chukwuma, Yogesh Kadam and Don Bosco Andrew were the top performers for the club.

 Playing in their first major tournaments of sorts , the Guwahati based team edged out Sporting 3-2 in what was arguably one of the matches of the tournament and then hung on to draw against ONGC. It was a creditable performance as they reached the quarterfinals after defeating  ASC Center and JCT Academy 4-1 and 3-0 respectively in the preliminary rounds. Ballu Jigdung, who scored a hat-trick against ASC in the first match, along with striker Kamei were the key players that stole the show.

Flops of the Tournament : Pune FC and Sporting Club de Goa

Pune FC Disappoint

Pune FC Disappoint

This was a big chance for the Pune based club to win a major tournament as the Red Lizards entered the tournament as the favorites in the absence of big Kolkata and Goa clubs. Placed in a relatively easy group with CRPF and Assam Rifles, Pune FC managed to draw their matches despite playing full strength squad which included Jeje, Arata Izumi and others. Pune managed to score only once in the tournament

Another I-League club which failed to make it past the quarterfinals were Sporting Clube as Assam Rifles exploited the weakness in their defense to score thrice in group stages. Sporting were also playing a full squad featuring Adil Khan as well as new recruit Bong Bertand.

Encouraging Signs for Mumbai Football

It was indeed a great win for Godfrey Pereira’ s boys after key players left the side in the transfer season. However certain shrewd buys in the form of Micky Fernandez and John Dias from Dempo and Souvik Chakraborty from Bagan seems to be paying rich dividends. Dodsal will also be taking a lot of positives back home and would be front runners to qualify from I-League Division 2. It is being widely feared that football in Mumbai is dying a slow death but the presence of two Mumbai clubs- Dodsal and Air India will indeed act as a boast for the game in the city.

It indeed turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Indian Football that the top teams decided to stay away from the event and the smaller teams played out of the skin to ensure that the standard of the event remained high despite the low spectator turnout. The tournament final however, was an all Mumbai affair something which the state can be proud of and it would indeed act as a boast for the three Mumbai based I-League clubs.