While Indian team traveled to Yangon for the all important AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers, the Indian challenge at the continental club level was put to test as Churchill Brothers and East Bengal geared up for their respective matches on Match day 1. The reasons behind the tight scheduling of both the crucial tournaments, is still obscure and has boggled many coaches.
Churchill Outclassed away from home
The Goan giants were all set to sail their ship in the uncharted waters as Coach Mariano Dias made some shrewd signings in the winter to add teeth to his squad. The Red Machines were up against a strong and tricky side- Kitchee SC in their first Group E match away. With all the players up his sleeve for selection, Dias deployed a solid starting line up at Mong Kok Stadia in Hong Kong. The ploy didn’t work as the former I-League champions returned home empty handed after goalkeeper Nandy had to pick the ball out of his net no less than three times during the match.
The intent was clear from Mariano, as Churchill started with an aggressive line up. Gabonese Henri and Chettri started up front, with Bikramjit Singh in the middle of the park. Lenny was planted to do the dirty role for the Goans, away from home, cutting down the moves stemming from the Kitchee mid field. Custodian Sandip Nandy knew it would be long night for him as Kitchee’s Fung Chen warmed his gloves from distance inside the opening few minutes. Though Churchill settled into the match possession wise, they never threatened as Kitchee SC brewed attacks, calling for more saves from the Chutchill Brothers custodian. Finally the deadlock was broken in the 28th minute as captain Siu Kei headed the ball home after connecting with a cross. Three minutes later, Jorge Tarres slotted the in the back of the net after beating the offside trap. The home team lead at the lemon break being two goals to the good as Churchill struggled to come to terms with the sleek passing from the men in red.
The second half revolved around Churchill Brothers trying to get back into the game after the Goans were handed an extra man advantage eleven minutes into the second half. Yang Huang of Kitchee received his second caution of the match as he was shown the door. But this turned out to be blessing in disguise for the hosts as they netted their third goal to put the tie to sleep. Jorje Tarres headed in his second of the night. Although Churchill tried to try different combinations in the field, using their substitutions, but it ended with the same score line to the dismay of the travelling team.
Next match– 12th March, V Semen Padang (Indonesia), Home.
East Bengal wins their first continental match in five years
The Lal-Holud brigade rallied to clinch their maiden three points in the Group H encounter at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata against Malaysia’s Selangor FC. Trevor Morgans’ side rode on a solitary strike form Lalrindika Ralte before the lemon break to bag maximum points.
The first half saw East Bengal starting with attacking instincts as chances fell to both the strikers. With Sanju, Dika on the flanks and Mehtab in the middle orchestrating the moves, East Bengal soon found rhythm in their play. Chidi struck the bar on fifth minute to set things going. On the other hand the visiting side Selnagor were still finding their feet on the artificial turf at the YBK. The former national champions made apt use of long throw in’s from Raju, which seem to trouble the young visiting defence. Eventually, the ascendancy by East Bengal paid dividends as Ralte’s shot made its way into the back of the net, past diving Razali. East Bengal led into the break with a dominant first half performance behind their backs.
The second half re-iterated the same story as East Bengal created a number of chances to double their lead, but somehow all the chances were either muffed by Chidi, Borisic and Penn. The Malaysians had some chances scattered over the half, but none were good enough to trouble Gurpreet in the goal. Trevor Morgan’s side garnered their first three points after after five years of hustle in the continental arena. The Selangor coach was left ruing his sides inability to finish the few available relevant chances, but was all praises for the Indian team in the post match conference. This was also the first time East Bengal won a match in AFC Cup under Morgan’s mentorship.
Next Match– 13th March, V Sài Gòn Xuân Thành ( Vietnam), Away.