IN A LATE COMEBACK that shocked everyone in the arena, Bangladesh Army held East Bengal to a draw in the Durand Cup today.
In what was the first competitive game of the season of the Red and Golds' first team, and the debut match of new head coach Carles Cuadrat, they made a cautious start at the Salt Lake Stadium, took a two goal lead, then disastrously conceded twice in the final minutes of the match to settle for a draw.
The Bangladesh Army team, who suffered a 5-0 loss to Mohun Bagan in their previous game, had trouble matching East Bengal in any department for the majority of the game. The home team created more chances, and never really felt threatened at the back, and seemed to be holding back at times to ensure they preserve energy for the upcoming matches. However, perhaps they became too self-assured about their victory; which ended the match in a calamitous fashion for them.
East Bengal's first goal came from a penalty 34 minutes in, as Nishu Kumar was brought down in the box and Saul Crespo calmly converted the spot kick. But their second goal, coming a minute before half time, was the highlight of the match. Harmanjot Khabra floated a well-measured cross from near the corner flag into the box and Javier Siverio jumped up to make sure his header found the target like a sniper's bullet.
In the second half, the action was a lot more relaxed, and Cuadrat appeared to be happy with that as securing the win and avoiding major injuries seemed to be his biggest priorities. The one thing that went wrong for EB was a red card shown to Nishu Kumar which rules him out of the next match; which happens to be the Kolkata Derby against Mohun Bagan on 12th August. The rest was going swimmingly.
However, Bangladesh Army had their first good moment in the tournament against them just minutes before regulation time ended when Mohammad Shahriar Emon, well-positioned on the edge of the box, got hold of a deflected set piece and hammered it into the net through a thin line of sight in the middle of four East Bengal defenders. The keeper saw the ball too late and was unable to stop it from going in.
And although it looked like a consolation goal for them at the moment, the story turned on its head deep into added time when Meraj found another deflection - this time off the EB keeper - in the box and got the finish, albeit in a clumsy fashion.
But that didn't matter to Bangladesh Army players. They celebrated the draw like a victory, lapping the ground with the Bangladesh national flag. It is one of the most memorable results ever for the team that usually plays amateur level football. And for Durand Cup fans, it will go down as a remarkable comeback story from an underdog in the tournament's long illustrious history.
For East Bengal, it's a reminder that Cuadrat has a long way to go before the popular club, which has struggled in recent seasons, gets back on the right track.