Both Indian clubs’ fates were sealed before the final round in AFC Cup and the current trend continued as the Group stages came to a conclusion. It was a mixed bag of results for Indian Clubs East Bengal and Churchill Brothers. Former wasn’t expected to do well at the start of the campaign but contrary to the expectations they performed admirably to top the table and progressed into the next round in unbeaten fashion. Soon to be I-League champions had high hopes resting on them, but they couldn’t replicate their domestic magic in continental level and bowed out with yet another away defeat.
East Bengal top the table, in style
After a long hiatus, East Bengal is back where the club wants to be – right among the top clubs in Asia. The Kolkata club had secured a pre-quarter final place in the last round when Trevor Morgan’s side split points with Selangor at the Shah Alam Stadia.
But finishing at the top of the table had added incentive- playing the pre-quarter final match at home. This was clearly a bullet point during all the pre match discussions as former national champions slotted four goals past visiting Sai Gon side. Trevor Morgan was ecstatic as he saw his side rally through the group unbeaten.
East Bengal went in with their usual 4-4-2 formation with Gurpreet Singh Sandhu making a comeback in the AFC Cup under the bars. Naoba and club captain Sanju Pradhan treaded the right flank with ever reliable Soumik and India internation Dika Ralte on the left. Cavin Lobo made a rare start in the competition since his transfer from Mumbai FC in the summer. He alongside Penn Orji was cited to string and orchestrate moves from the center. Normal suspects Chidi Edeh and Borisic spearheaded the attack. Harmanjot Singh Khabra missed out due to his leg injury which will keep the Punjabi lad out for atleast six weeks. Mehtab Hossain was not part of the squad and was rested ahead of their crucial I-league matches.
East Bengal led early in the first half after referee from Saudi Arabia awarded the hosts a dubious spot kick which was clinically converted by Chidi Edeh. Aussie striker Andrew Barisic got on the score sheet as well and inside the first half, the deal looked almost done with the hosts ruling the possession. Number eighteen Nigerian Penn Orji topped his hard working performance with a brace after the lemon break. He also bagged the man of the match.
East Bengal finished the Group H at the top with fourteen points garnered, best by any Indian club since the inception of AFC Cup. East Bengal now lock horns against Yangon United of Myanmar, who are too unbeaten in the competition, on 15th May.
Churchill Brothers Bow out with another away defeat.
Churchill Brothers may be heading towards their second I-League title back home, but the side from Salcette were more than disappointing in the AFC Cup. After signing Chettri and Tamba in the winter transfer window, the team focussed on adding teeth to both their attack and defence. Clearly, it did not work out for Subhash Bhowmik’s side as Churchill could only muster a single win in the whole tournament with a dismal away record.
The Red Machines’ hopes of a place in the pre quarter finals were dashed in the last round when Kitchee SC beat the Goan side in Pune. Sighting an opportunity to test a few of the younger lads in the side, the team saw some new faces in the starting line-up at the Agus Salim Stadium in Padang.
Facing the table toppers and a side in form, custodian Lalit Thapa had his work cut out. Saran Singh and Naveen Kumar were the centre backs with Raju Y on the taking over the overlapping role. Bineesh Balan shared the striking responsibility alongside Balal with young prdigy Jaison Vales leading the side from the middle of the park. Steven Dias took his usual position on the right wing with Ashley Fernandes and Richard Costa deployed in the middle.
Churchill Brothers were chasing the game from the start and were eventually behind after twenty four minutes. The Indonesian side doubled their lead just after the half time break, but Bineesh Balan struck few minutes after to cut down the deficit. Padang started pushing more after conceding and were rewarded with two more goals before the misery ended for the former I-league champions.
Churchill finish the group standing at the third place.