The month of April is indeed an important one in Indian Football with the I-League entering its final phase with three teams – Churchill Brothers, East Bengal and Pune FC still in the fray for the tile. Two out of three teams, namely Churchill Brothers and East Bengal are also representing the nation in the AFC Cup. The Match-Day 3 of the tournament which is the Asian version of the Europa League saw Churchill Brothers host Singapore Giants Warriors FC at Balewadi Sports Complex, Pune with both teams looking for their first win. On the other hand East-Bengal made a trip to Singapore to face Tampines Rovers looking to strengthen their grip on the top of the table.
Churchill Brothers Record First Win
Sans Beto, their influential Brazilian midfielder , it was always going to be tough for Churchill Brothers who are yet to settle down following the departure of Akram and Bilal. The Goans have been struggling in the I-League of late having been forced to share points with ONGC and Salgaocar. Henri Antchouet, Bineesh Balan as well as midfielders Steven Dias and Lenny Rodrigues were also injured for the hosts as Churchill started with only one foreign player and a depleted midfield and defense with several of the players who are fielded in the Goan League starting for the League leaders. For Warriors striker Mislav Karoglan was their main player and hope. Coach Marino Dias stuck to the expected 4-4-2 formation.
Singapore Cup holders Warriors FC (formerly known as Singapore Armed Forces FC) came into the match struggling in S-League with two wins in their six opening matches and playing in the heat at Pune didn’t help their cause either as the much fancied duo of Sunil Chhetri and Balal Arezou troubled the opposition defenders right from the word go and it was Churchill who drew the first blood when Jaison Vales scored in the 37th minute from outside the box and it was the ever-improving Bikramjit Singh who added the other just before the half-time to put the Red-Machines in a commanding position. Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri earned the assist for the goal
The Churchill duo of Chhetri and Arezou were proving to be Warriors’s nemesis even in the second half and though the side from Singapore enjoyed better possession as compared to the first half, it was Churchill who had the bulk of chances and the scoreline could have been much worse had the Goans converted them. Churchill put the game beyond doubt when Sunil Chhetri scored in the 84th minute to make it 3-0 and claim a goal which he had rightly deserved on the night.
Kitchee’ s loss to Semen Padang at home coupled with the impressive win by Churchill Brothers has put the group wide open with only three points separating the top three and Warriors virtually out of competition having lost all their three matches. Churchill Brothers next travel to Singapore to face Warriors and a win away from home could boast their chances of moving through to the next round. The win would also give Churchill’ s domestic campaign a boast where they are favorites to clinch the title but have been suffered a recent slump in form. Chhetri’s return to form is indeed a welcome sign and the Indian skipper proved yet again that he is one of the best strikers in South-East Asia.
Next match– 10th April, Warriors FC (Singapore), Away.
East Bengal Win Away From Home
East Bengal made the second consecutive away trip for AFC Cup matches following the draw with Prayag United where they surrendered a two goal lead. East Bengal like Churchill Brothers were not in the best of forms. Coach Trevor Morgan opted for Abhijit Mondal in goal with Gurpreet Singh Sandhu being suspended in his usual 4-3-2-1 formation. Nigerian Chidi Edeh and Aussie Barisic started as the two forwards with Penn Orji in the hole behind them. Mehtab Hossain in the middle was supported by Ralte on the left and Sanju Pradhan on the right. The versatile Harmanjot Khabra started at the right-back with Saumik Dey on the left while Raju Gaikwad and Uga Okpara were paired up in the heart of defense. For the hosts Serbian striker Sead Hadžibulić and Khairul Amri started upfront supported by Shahdan Sulaiman, acting as a playmaker.
Tampines Rovers, popularly know as the Stags started off as the better side with Amri and Sulaiman troubling the Kolkata giants. The S-League Champions had some easy chances in the first 15 minutes but failed to capitalize and were made to pay for it in the 19th minute when Sanju Pradhan’s shot took a deflection from defender Anaz Hadee to result in an own goal. Stung by the goal, the hosts hit back and were rewarded for their persistence when Hadžibulić headed past Mondal from Sulaiman’ ball in the 28th minute.
The match resumed from 1-1 after the lemon break and it was end to end stuff with both teams going for a win. The game witnessed three goals in the space of three minutes as Andrew Barisic scored from a Chidi Edeh cross in the 62 minute followed by a goal by the Nigerian himself in the 64th minute following a cross from Penn Orji in the 64th minute. On the other end Hadžibulić and Amri combined well to reduce the margin in the 65th minute. The Lal-Hould brigade put the match beyond the hosts in the 87th minute when Aussie Andrew Barisic scored his second to complete a memorable evening for East-Bengal.
At the end of match-day 3 , East-Bengal lead the points table in group H with 7 point followed by Sài Gòn Xuân Thành who also have 7 points but are second owing to an inferior goal-difference. Unlike the Vietnam side though , the Kolkata giants have two home games left out of the remaining three and look all set to top the group and progress to the next round. Selangor and Tampines Rovers with one point each are virtually out of the tournament. A win against Tampines Rovers in the next match could seal East-Bengal’s place in the next round but the Trevor Morgan coached side needs to avoid complacency
Next match– 9th April, V Tampine Rovers (Singapore), Home.