EAST BENGAL started their campaign with a vital away win as their star striker Ranti Martins put two goals past Sporting Clube de Goa, overcoming home team skipper Odafa Okolie's hard work to give his side a lead in the first half.
Sporting Clube de Goa were banking on Odafa Okolie up front, and had the assurance of the likes of Arindam Bhattacharya at goal and Dharmaraj Ravanan in defence. East Bengal, with Ranti Martins at the forefront of their attack, were banking on their midfield, led by Do Dong-hyun, to trump the home side.
Biswajit Bhattacharya had come in with a specific plan to put a stop to Odafa's movements near the East Bengal box and it showed. The SCG captain had to move back to look for balls as East Bengal dominated the midfield from early on, perfectly metaphorised by Dong-hyun nutmegging Loveday.
Bikash Jairu was especially mobile on the left wing with his crossed. Early in the game when Dong-hyun supplied him with a good ball he ran up and sent a perfect cross to Sehnaj Singh inside the box who shot it over the bar. At this point it looked like one-way attacking traffic coming from the Red and Golds.
But SCG created some dangerous moments when they managed to reach Odafa with the ball despite the fact that the Nigerian striker was practically in lockdown. Once he fed the ball to Syrian medio Mahmoud Amnah who took the shot under pressure from an onrushing Rehenesh TP and sent it wide.
But then the home side got a break-through. Pratesh Shirodkar got the ball to Odafa who made a run for it, beating two East Bengal defenders and shooting it straight past the keeper. Suddenly, 30 minutes into the game, Sporting Clube de Goa had drawn first blood against the run of play.
Soon afterwards Odafa picked up a knock and had to go off for treatment. But when he returned he was back to his old threatening self, and almost scored when a cross from Amnah got to him.
But in the second half East Bengal renewed their efforts to break down the SC Goa defence. Dong-hyun sent a good ball through to Khabra who sent a cross for Ranti but Dharmaraj intercepted it. But SCG replied soon, with Borges feeding Odafa who got past multiple defenders before shooting it wide.
It seemed that the Red and Golds' main attacking weapon, Ranti Martisn, wasn't having enough impact on the game. But all that was to change a little after the hour mark. Biswajit Bhattacharya replaced Khabra with Sabeeth, an attacking substitution, and soon there was more space for Ranti in the final third.
Do Dong-hyun did make the most of it when he sent a great ball in that Ranti Martins sent straight into the net. The scores were level.
Now it was for East Bengal to press harder for full points. They almost scored a second when Ranti tried to feed Sabeeth inside the box but the latter's positioning wasted the effort. Then Dong-hyun had a good chance to head one in from close range but it went wide.
Odafa had a chance to re-gain the lead for the Flaming Oranjes. He got the ball from a good range, triggered a low bullet of a shot but it hit the leg of Rehenesh and went out.
And next minute, Bikash Jairu had scored. It was Ranti Martins with the assist, passing the ball where Bikash had enough space to run into a scoring position and finish with his left foot. The Red and Golds were now ahead.
But Ranti didn't stop there. 3 minutes later he finished the job. He got the ball deep, Ran straight up, a defender chased him but fell behind, and he scored. 1-3 with 80 minutes on the clock.
Towards the end, Odafa found the post but it was too late. East Bengal had dominated this game in every sense. For Sporting Clube de Goa, Odafa was a solid presence up front throughout the game but the team effort definitely fell short. Do Dong-hyun, Bikash Jairu all made their presence felt, as did Arnab Mondal and Bello Rasaq at the back who carried out the duty of marking Odafa throughout the game, denying him room far too often.
East Bengal had come into the season with a team good enough to be title challengers. And now, starting the campaign with a compelling away win against a side with a sting, they have delivered proof of that. But Mateus Costa will take a few positives from this game, and want to address all the flaws that this clash of local league champions has exposed in his defence.