The MatchDay-2 of AFC Cup , the Asian version of the Europa League had both Churchill Brothers and East-Bengal in action. Churchill Brothers, currently favorites for the I-League crown, hosted Indonesian League champions Semen Padang FC after they had gone down 3-0 to Kitchee SC on the first match-day. I-League Leaders East Bengal on the other hand traveled to Vietnam after having won their first match in the continental event after 5 years in the last match when they won 1-0 at home. They took on Xuân Thàng of Vietnam in the second match day 2.
Churchill Unlucky To Miss Three Points
Semen Padang came into the match on a positive note after they had defeated Warriors FC of Singapore 3-1 in their first match. Under the guidance of Marino Dias and Subhash Bhormick, Churchill Brothers went in with an expected 4-4-2 lineup with Binesh Balan and Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri upfront. The Churchill midfield, touted a one of the best in the nation, consisted of Beto in the attacking midfielder role and Bikramjit Singh as the defensive guard ahead of the back four which consisted of Lamine Tamba, Denzil Franco, Raju and Ravanan. Lenny Rodrigues much to the surprise was left on the bench. Wings were marshaled by Steven Dias on the right and Sanjay Balmuchu on the left. Sandip Nandy, the 38 year old started under the bar. For the visitors, their star-striker Edward Wilson Junior and center-back David Pagbe were unavailable.
Searching for a win, The Goans went on the attack right from the starting whistle with Steven Dias and Denzil Franco combining well on the right flank. Beto and Chhetri were also combining well and the Indonesian champions were on the back-foot and preferred attacking on the break with Sandip Nandy coming into action early in the game. Churchill’s initiative paid off as Sunil Chhetri headed home brilliantly from a Denzil Franco cross to give the Reds the lead.
Semen Padang hit back quickly with Nur Iskandar troubling the Churchill back-four. In the 36th minute Hendra Adi Bayauw scored the equalizer after going pass a couple of Churchill defenders and then in the 45th minute M. Rizal gave the visitors the lead with Sandip Nandy being guilty of lack of concentration on both the occasions. The match went into the break with visitors 2-1 ahead.
The second half began with both sides cancelling each other in midfield but Churchill Brothers look determined for an equalizer and on 57th minute Bikramjit Singh found the equalizer with a powerful shot form outside the box. The young Indian midfielder has no doubt been one of the finds of the season for Churchill. Spurred on by the equalizer , the home team pressed hard for the equalizer and with an injury to goalkeeper Eka Putra, the momentum seemed to have shifted Churchill’s way and they seemed to have found the winner but Beto fired wide from a Denzil Franco cross. Beto again came close but this time his ferocious shot was tipped over by the substitute keeper Fakhrurrazi and the match ended as 2-2 draw.
At the end of MatchDay 2, Churchill Brothers find themselves with at the third spot in the group with 1 point from two games. Kitchee FC lead the pack with 2 wins from 2 while Semen Padang are at the second position. Warriors FC are yet to open their account and their match against Churchill has become a must win for both the teams to stay afloat in the competition.
Next match– 2nd April, V Warriors FC (Singapore), Home.
East Bengal Earn A Creditable Draw
Xuân Thành edged out Tampine Rovers 3-2 to start of their campaign on a positive note and came into the match with a lot of confidence and it was always expected to be a tough match for the Federation Cup Champions in the hostile conditions at Ho Chi Minh. Trevor Morgan deserves full credit for earning the first away points for the Lal-Hould brigade after 10 straight losses away from home.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu started under the bar for East-Bengal with Uga-Okpara partnering Gurwinder Singh in the heart of the defense. Gurwinder Singh was preferred over Raju Gaikwad contrary to the expectations. The versatile Harmanjot Khabra started at the right-back with Saumik Dey on the left. The dangerous duo of Andrew Barisic and Edeh Chidi started upfront with Penn Orji in the attacking role as Trevor Morgan fielded all four of his foreigners. Mehtab Hossain, Sanju Pradhan and Lalrindika Ralte completed the expected 4-3-1-2 formation for the Kolkata giants. For the hosts Nigerian striker Emeka Ndubuisi Oguwike started alongside Christian Nsi Amougou.
Expectantly, the hosts started as the better side with young Gurpreet coming into action early in the game but as East Bengal settled down thanks to their midfield the sides were evenly matched. Chidi Edeh had the best chance for East Bengal in the first half but he failed to beat oalkeeper Bui Tah Truong.
The second half began with Gurpreet making another superb save this time to deny Cameroonian Amougou. To maintain pace of the game, coach Trevor Morgan made three substitutions in the second half with Naoba Singh coming on for Sanju Pradhan in the 64th minute to allow Khabra to move up the park. Robin Singh and Baljit Sahni both came on in the last ten minutes instead of Chidi and Barisic to put pressure on the hosts. The second half was largely restricted to the midfield as both teams seemed content with a point each and there were few chances for either side. It was a tremdous performance by the East Bengal back four as they soaked what ever pressure the home side excerted.
The point marked Trevor Morgan’s first away point in AFC Cup in almost two and a half years. In fact, East Bengal had lost to the same opponents last year. The draw ensured that at the end of Match-Day 2 East Bengal find themselves at the second spot in the group tied with Xuân Thành at 4 points. Having negotiated probably the toughest match of the group, the Red & Gold brigade find themselves with a good opportunity not only to qualify for the next round but also top the group.
Next match– 3rd April, V Tampine Rovers (Singapore), Away.