Ambedkar Stadium may be just eight kilometers away from Jawhar Lal Nehru Stadium but there is a gulf of difference in the way the football events being held at these venues are being covered. Nehru Cup being held at the Jawhar Lal Nehru Stadium is getting all the focus while some distance apart at the 125 th edition of the Durand Cup, the third oldest tournament in the world, it is a different story No live-telecast, scant media coverage and back-out by the top I-League clubs has meant that the Durand Cup 2012 is going down unnoticed.
It was a hardly a surprise that the top I-League teams choose to stay away from the event. The Kolkata trio of Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Prayag United choose to play in Kolkata League. The Goan clubs including defending champions Churchill Brothers preferred to hold team building and practice sessions after an influx of new foreign players. Even upcoming clubs like Shillong Lajong and United Sikkim gave the event a miss. The only I-League teams that participated were Air India, ONGC, Sporting Clube de Goa, Pailan Arrows and Pune FC.
With the quarterfinals over and the semi-finals lined up, TheHardTackle takes a look at the journey of these four teams and previews the semi-finals as the tournament reaches its climax.
Formed by the Dubai based Dodsal Group, Dodsal FC made a tremendous entry into Indian Football scenario when it announced its ambitious plans and also roped in former UAE player Mohammad Omar as the CEO. The club appointed ex Air-India coach Bimal Ghosh as its head coach and roped in established I-League and former national team players like Surkumar Singh, N.P. Pradeep and Mohammad Rafi. The Durand Cup was their first major tournament and the club has lived up to its hype.
Drawn in Group D alongside, Army Red and Punjab Police, Dodsal opened its campaign by defeating Army Red 3-0 in the first match. Ex East Bengal player Sunil Kumar scored the first goal from the spot after Thoi singh was brought down. N.P. Pradeep showed glimpses of his old form after he curled in a long-ranger . Senegalese Winger Demba Diakhate scored the third in the injury time.
Dodsal never looked back and routed the Punjab Police team 6-0 in the next match. Usual suspects Rafi and Thoi Singh scored two goals each while Pradeep scored one as well. Nawab Zeeshan Rahman unleashed a sharp half-volley to score the sixth goal.
THT Men to Watch Out for : Thoi Singh, Rafi, N.P. Pradeep
SESA Football Academy
SESA Football Academy is one of the most prominent youth academies in the nation and a lot of prominent players from big Goan clubs like Dempo, Salgaocar and Churchill have come through the SESA academy. The Goans 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. SESA took a 2-0 lead after goals by Yogesh Kadam and Inacio Colaco. CRPF however made a comeback scoring in the 82nd and 93 rd minutes to shock SESA. Drama however was to follow as SESA forward Don Bosco Andrew scored with a crisp left-footer in the 95th minute to give his team a memorable win.
Pune FC’s draw with CRPF meant that the SESA team went into’s match against Pune FC needing only a draw and what followed was an extremely interesting match.Nigerian Chukwudi Chukwuma and Yogesh Kardam troubled the Pune FC defense couple of times but it was Pune who created most of the chances. In the 91 st minute of the match Jeje scored and it looked Pune would go through unless Chukwudi Chukwuma headed in from a cross as the match witnessed a massive 8 minute injury time.
THT Men to Watch Out for : Chukwudi Chukwuma, Yogesh Kadam
Air India FC
Mumbai based I-League club Air India have also made it to the last four from the group A that featured local club Delhi United and the much talked about Pailan Arrows coached by the charismatic Arthur Papas. Air India has faced a mass exodus of players like Manandeep Singh, Sandesh Gadkari who have departed for greener pastures. Even coach Santosh Kashyap changed sides to join Mohun Bagan.
The Godfrey Pereira coached side began with a 3-0 win over Delhi United. Air-India began well and scored in the 18th minute through M. Pradeep. After the breather Air India added 2 more goals through Lepcha and Neil Gaikwad scoring goals in 67th and 88th minute respectively and held on to ensure three points. Arrows draw with Delhi United meant that Air-India needed only a draw to move through to the semis
The institutional side did manage to hold the Arrows to a 1-1 draw. Souvik Chakraborty who joined Air-India from Bagan scored in the 16th minute to give his team the lead but Avinabo Bag equalized three minutes later. Air india however hung on to move to the semi-finals
THT Men to Watch Out for : Micky Fernandez, Souvik Chakraborty
Assam based club Assam Rifles FC are having a dream run in the tournament. The club managed to reach the quater-final stages after a two wins in the preliminary stage. They beat ASC Centre 4-1 in the opening game thanks to a hat-trick from Ballu Jigdung . In second match Assam Rifles routed JCT Academy 3-0 with Ajit Kumar Singh scoring a brace. The club was however pitted in a strong group featuring two I-League clubs – Sporting and ONGC.
Assam Rifles refused to go down and edged past Sporting 3-2 in their opening match. The match is arguably the best match of the tournament. Playing with a full strength squad, Sporting opened the scoring through new recruit Bong Bertand in the 5th minute itself. Kamei equalized for the Assam team on 41st minute and two minutes later Bulu Jidung gave Rifles the lead. Rifles scored the third in 69th minute before Ogba Kalu pulled one back in the 75th minute. Rifles hung on for the remaining time to complete a memorable win.
Needing just a draw against ONGC, Rifles fought valiantly till the end and finally scored the equalizer in the 5th minute of injury time after ONGC had taken the lead in the 7th minute. Striker Kamei was the hero as he scored the all important goal.
THT Men to Watch Out for : Kamei, Bulu Jidung
SESA Football Academy vs Air India
The first semifinal is a Goa vs Mumbai affair with SESA taking on Air-India. With both the team relatively inexperienced, it is expected to be a cracker of a match. TheHardTackle predicts Air-India to reach the final on the bank of its I-League experience and presence of key players.
Dodsal FC vs Assam Rifles
Assam Rifles have had a great tournament but are likely to fall to the motivated Dodsal FC which also boasts of several I-League regulars. TheHardTackle predicts Dodsal FC to easily beat Assam Riffles and reach the finals.
It is all likely to be a all Mumbai final with Air India and Dodsal FC clashing. This rivalry is all set to spice up in times to come though it looks at the moment that Dodsal have the edge. The Durand Cup may not have attracted the top clubs and may not have been covered by media but the performance of Assam Rifles, SESA and Dodsal is indeed a promising sign for Indian Football.