EAST BENGAL STARTED their 2015 Calcutta Football League campaign with a 1-0 win over last season's title challenger Tollygunge Agragami this afternoon.
In a highly anticipated encounter held at the East Bengal ground, the Red and Golds started without their star foreigners Ranti Martins and Bello Razaq, while their new signing South Korean winger Do Dong-hyun was handed his East Bengal debut. Jiten Murmu started as the centre forward, as young Samad Ali Mallick also got to have a start.
Tollygunge Agragami, who have a few ex East Bengal and Mohun Bagan players in their team including veteran defender Uga Okpara, had unsuccessfully tried to move the match to the Barasat Stadium earlier.
More than 20,000 spectators had amassed at the arena as referee Pranjol Baneree kicked off the proceedings. Early in the game, Tollygunge got a corner, followed by a close attempt by striker Adeleja who failed to convert from close range. This followed some minutes of midfield dominance by Tollygunge, but their poor coordination ruined every effort in the final third.
Around the 13th minute, Tollygunge captain Surabuddin was brought down by East Bengal medio Harmanjot Khabra. He was shown a yellow but the resulting free kick was fired wide by Snehashish. After some back and forth it was Khabra who cleared the Tollygunge defence with a ball to Do Dong-hyun, but the ex Brisbane Roar and NorthEast United player shot it directly at Tollygunge keeper Raju Ganguly. Minutes later, Dong-hyun came face to face with Raju when he got the ball on the edge of the box. His left footer flew towards a corner of the post, but Raju threw himself at it and pulled off a brilliant save. Soon afterwards, Adeleja got a clear shot at the goal which he sent wide. At half-time the score was level, but East Bengal had regained the control of the midfield, and things looked ominous for Tollygunge.
Early in the second half, East Bengal coach Biswajit Bhattacharya took out Jiten Mumrmu and put in Cavin Lobo at the front. A minute later Tollygunge got their best chance yet as Adeleja beat all the defenders and shot at the goal from a close range, but Red and Gold keeper Luis Barreto's stretched out leg came out of nowhere to get a deflection on the ball. East Bengal were spared, and from here they turned it around.
Shortly afterwards, Ranti Martins came on, replacing Prahlad Roy, putting extra pressure on the Tollygunge defence. A couple of quick corners saw East Bengal gain momentum and each time Surabuddin would attempt to breach their defence line, they would strike back with lethal counters. The intensity of attacks increased and it seemed as though the game was building up to a climax.
And it came in the 80th minute. Dong-hyun charged ahead with the ball, deep inside the Tolly half. He sent in a cross, and Hermanjot Khabra was waiting for it inside the penalty box. He lunged his head forward to meet the ball, giving it a sharp deflection that beat Raju Ganguly. The ball was in the net and East Bengal had gotten the goal they were so desperately seeking.
Debudant Du Dong-hyun seemed to have finally found his rhythm as he remained a constant threat to the opponent box for the remainder of the game. Another of his cross could have been converted had Ranti Martins been at the right spot. Moments later, Dong-hyun himself let fly at the goal, missing the post by a few centimeters. But by the time the final whistle was blown, he had done the job. His assist had secured the precious 3 points for East Bengal, and his performance had endeared him to the fans of his new club. He was also the easy choice for the Man of the Match award.
Tollygunge were left disappointed; they had come very close to ensuring a draw, perhaps even a win. But those missed chances in the first half came back to bite them. But still some of their players, especially Surabuddin and Snehashish, left their mark in the game.
The CFL is a short, compact competition and often the title race is decided by a very short margin. Wins like these are precious that way, and East Bengal, who have won the tournament last 5 times in a row, know it well. That's why they will be happy to have come away with full points in spite of a shaky beginning. They can use the remainder of the league to improve themselves, but losing points is not an option of any title aspirant in CFL. The assembled fans were more than aware of this, and they showed their appreciation for the result by celebrating in their traditional way: by lighting torches; an act that inspired their club's very emblem.
Meanwhile, at Gayeshpur, Police AC defeated SAI (East) 3-2 in a pulsating, hard-fought match. Police's Daniel Bedemi was the star of the show as he scored twice and helped Eric score the third, obviously becoming the Man of the Match. Sk Asiruddin and Debashishs Ghosh were the scorers for SAI. This win pushes Police AC to the top of the table with 4 points from 2 matches, leaving previous league leaders Aryan behind due to having scored more goals. SAI won their first match of the campaign, which means they are left with 3 points from 2 matches.
With Mohun Bagan and Mohammedan Sporting playing each other tomorrow, CFL will finally see all the big names enter the fray, and the battle to become the champions of Kolkata will have truly begun.