In his first club international, this young footballer showed that his left foot is as important an article of faith as that actor who on Sunday made history at the academy awards. Step forward Lalrindika Ralte.
When Daniel Day-Lewis took the story of Christy Brown to the world in the 1989 film My Left Foot, Ralte was three years from being born. From Lunglei in Mizoram, a six-hour drive from Aizawl, to the Salt Lake stadium on Wednesday afternoon, it’s been a long journey. And Ralte is far from being done yet.
Rise to fame
The trip from obscurity to fame took Ralte 31 minutes last September when as a substitute he scored to take East Bengal past Churchill Brothers and into their third straight Federation Cup final. From that left-foot volley to the matchwinner against Malaysian club Selangor in the AFC Cup opener, Ralte has shown a knack for scoring crucial goals despite not being a regular starter.
For East Bengal coach Trevor James Morgan, Ralte’s 43rd minute drive on Wednesday turned 13 into a lucky number. Under Morgan, East Bengal hadn’t won its previous 12 matches in this Asian competition and partly in jest the coach said he hopes ‘Dika’ would do this more regularly.
Ralte made the most of Selangor’s inability to close him down to find Edeh Chidi before firing a 25-yard drive that Norzalan bin Razali could only get a hand to off the return pass. Five minutes earlier, Ralte drove a right-footer that Razali cleared for a corner-kick.
“I am a right-hander but a natural left-footer when it comes to football,” said the Cristiano Ronaldo fan.
“Number 15 and Number 21 (Ralte) killed us,” said Irfan Bakti, Selangor’s coach after the 0-1 defeat. It is a coincidence that the No. 15 shirt made famous by Bhaichung Bhutia is now worn by another player from Sikkim. Sanju Pradhan also wore the captain’s armband.
The long wait
“I had to wait four years (and 21 matches) for my first win in the AFC Cup,” said Pradhan, a wide right midfielder whose long-range blast in the 68th minute was fisted over by Razali.
Chidi headed Mehtab Hossain’s corner-kick, East Bengal’s first, into the upright and then fed Andrew Barisic. The Australian striker couldn’t deal with the awkward bounce and his misses looked clumsy but by getting to the end of deliveries and helping East Bengal defend, Barisic showed he could be a useful player especially as East Bengal battle fixture congestion.
Chidi on song
By the 26th minute, Chidi had provided two telling passes and in the 29th , he squared to Penn Orji who from inside the six-yard box blasted into Razali. Chidi then drove into the goalie in the 42nd minute. East Bengal will have to hope these misses don’t prove costly later.
“What makes me happy is that this was the most disciplined performance in my time. It was a total team effort. I hope we can improve our conversion but I am particularly happy at the way Andrew and Chidi tracked back to help the team defend. It doesn’t happen often in Indian football,” said coach Morgan.
Selangor set to appeal player ban
Kolkata/Kuala Lumpur: Selangor FC coach Irfan Bakti said the club would like to help defender Ramez Dayoub who was given a life-ban pending appeal by the Lebanese football federation on Tuesday. Dayoub was left out of the 18 against East Bengal in Selangor’s Group H opener of the AFC Cup. “We are going to appeal. Dayoub was strong enough to want to come here for the game,” said Bakti. “It was only around lunch time today that we got a message from the secretary-general of our association to not play Dayoub. He had wanted to play.”HTC