Yet again, it was a tale of so close yet so far for East Bengal this term around in I-League. The Kolkata giants again narrowly missed out on the country’s top domestic tournament by finishing runners up, the third time in four years. In addition, the Red and Gold were unable to get their hands on the IFA Shield and the Federation Cup. The only piece of silverware that East Bengal managed to win this season was the Calcutta Football League, a trophy which they have now won for the fourth consecutive time.
The season started in somewhat a bizarre fashion for East Bengal, who were still reeling at the loss of their manager Trevor Morgan. The former Hull City development coach decided to part ways with the club after spending three successful seasons with the Red and Gold. With Morgan being a favourite amongst the players and the supporters, the East Bengal officials had their task cut out while choosing a suitable successor. Experienced Marcos Falopa was given the nod, but the Brazilian was soon to find out that coaching a Kolkata club of East Bengal’s stature was a completely different proposition compared to his previous assignments. He resigned from his post after just six months in charge after a string of poor results. Falopa was succeeded by five-time I-League winning coach Armando Colaco, but the Goan too failed to deliver the all important league title or the Federation Cup.
East Bengal won the Calcutta Football League comfortably with a game to spare. The Red and Gold won nine games out of their 11 league fixtures, drawing one and losing the other. Despite their triumph in the competition for the fourth straight season, East Bengal’s title win was marred by their loss against their arch-rivals Mohun Bagan in the final game. Although the league title was guaranteed before the match, it was not an inconsequential game by any means, the clashes between these two clubs never are. However, Mohun Bagan bagged the bragging rights, courtesy of a late Katsumi Yusa strike, which left a sour taste in the mouth of East Bengal. However, the club played like a well-oiled machine in the previous games of the tournament, which guaranteed them the title.
The Red and Gold’s IFA Shield journey was cut short, following their 3-0 semi final loss at the hands of beaten finalists Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi from Bangladesh. East Bengal began their tournament with a 1-1 draw with Sunmoon University, but the club won their next two group games against Geyland International and United Sports to finish atop Group A. However, their lackluster performance against Dhanmondi surprised one and all as they failed to bag another piece of silverware to their kitty this season.
East Bengal’s Federation Cup campaign was woeful to say the least. Armando Colaco’s side started their cup defence with a 1-1 draw with Rangdajied United, which was followed by a 2-1 loss at the hands of Sporting Clube de Goa. Although East Bengal defeated Bengaluru FC 2-0 in their final group game, it was not enough for the club to progress to the knockout rounds of the competition. It was East Bengal’s worst performance in recent years in the Federation Cup, a tournament whose final the club managed to reach for the past four season, winning thrice.
Despite East Bengal securing the runners-up spot in the I-League, they never were favourites for the title due to their form. The Kolkata club lacked consistency throughout the course of the tournament which can be seen by the fact that the first time they managed to win back to back matches was during the fag-end of the season. Although East Bengal started their I-League campaign with a thumping 4-0 rout of Shillong Lajong in an away game, they fade away soon after following a 3-1 loss to Dempo. It was to be the story of East Bengal all through the season as they played brilliantly in a game and drew blanks in the very next fixture. Also, their involvement in the AFC Cup meant that the Red and Gold were always chasing leaders and eventual winners Bengaluru FC, whom they defeated twice in the I-League. Dropping points against less-profile teams also jeopardised East Bengal’s title charge as they finished the season with 43 points from 24 games, just four adrift of the champions. However, the club’s faithful were happy about the fact that they were undefeated in their two matches against their bitter rivals Mohun Bagan, winning one and drawing the other.
East Bengal enjoyed their best-ever run in the AFC Cup when they reached the semi-finals of the continental tournament. However, they were comprehensively beaten 7-2 on aggregate in the last four stage by Al-Kuwait, who went on to lift the trophy. But despite the loss, it was a commendable effort by East Bengal as they became the second Indian club to reach the semi-finals of the AFC Cup after Dempo.
Best Player – Lalrindika Ralte
Lalrindika Ralte was a great performer for East Bengal in the most recent campaign. The speedy midfielder, who joined the club from Churchill Brothers in 2012, built on his impressive debut season for the Kolkata giants. The 21-year-old Indian international found the back of the net four times in the I-League in addition to scoring some vital goals in the AFC Cup. His long-distance screamer in East Bengal’s 1-0 win over Mohun Bagain in the I-League in November will be remembered by both sets of fans for years to come.
Most Disappointing Player – James Moga
James Moga was roped in by East Bengal with a lot of expectation at the start of the season, but the striker failed to deliver the goods. The South Sudanese international was expected to be the perfect partner for Edeh Chidi upfront, having scored 16 goals each in his previous two I-League seasons with Sporting Clube de Goa and Pune FC respectively. But Moga disappointed big time. He was frequently involved in off the field tantrums; be it a spat with Falopa or falling out with Colaco or sharing a cold relation with Chidi. The 30-year-old was also very inconsistent in front of the goal, scoring just seven times in the I-League. In addition, he missed a large chunk of the season with injuries.
Cavin Lobo was also in great form for the East Bengal this season. The wily midfielder did not score as many goals as Ralte did, but the former Mumbai FC player provided some critical assists when his team needed it the most. Lobo, who scored two goals in the I-League, was always a bundle of energy in the park. The 26-year-old was fluent going forward, but frequently fell back to help his side’s defence.
Arnab Mondal had another stellar season at the heart of his side’s defence. The centre-back put in numerous impressive displays throughout the season. While other defenders were being rotated around him, Arnab was ever-present. The Indian international’s calm and consistent good performances also over-shadowed Uga Okpara’s absence during the second part of the season.
Shillong Lajong 0 -4 East Bengal
East Bengal’s 4-0 thrashing of Shillong Lajong away at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in their very first I-League game of the season was a performance worth remembering. Goals from Moga and Chidi handed the Kolkata outfit a 2-0 lead going into the half-time break. Lobo found his name on the score sheet after the break before Moga completed his brace in the 63rd minute. East Bengal completely outplayed Lajong in that contest, however, it proved to be a false dawn as the Red and Gold flattered to deceive in the I-League once again.
East Bengal 0-3 Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi (IFA Shield)
East Bengal were totally outplayed by Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi in the semi-finals of the IFA Shield. The Bangladeshi club dominated the game from start to end and stormed into the final after winning the contest 3-0. East Bengal failed to pose any kind of challenge as Dhanmondi ran out comfortable winners. The foreign attacking trio of Emeka Darlington, Sony Norde and Wedson Anselme scored a goal apiece for the club across the border. To make matters worse, Arnab Mondal was sent off for a second bookable offence in the closing stages of the match.
Goal Of the Season
Lalrindika Ralte vs Mohun Bagan
Lalrindika Ralte scored one of the goals of the season in the high-profile Kolkata derby, which enabled East Bengal to come out victorious from the encounter. With the scores tied at 0-0, the midfielder hit a thumping long-ranger, which Mohun Bagan custodian Shilton Paul failed to keep out despite his best efforts. Ralte’s strike proved to be the difference between the sides and it also handed Colaco a victory in his debut game in charge of East Bengal, that too against their fierce local rivals Mohun Bagan.