THERE MUST be something about South Africa and the chokers's tag. Be it the under-19 World Cup cricket final or that of its senior team, they have often been found wanting in crunch games. So much so that the rugby World Cup triumph last year seems like an aberration.
Santos FC's young ones haven't scaled such heights but seem to have picked up the habit of choking at the death. Despite beating Mahindra United 2-0 in their tournament opener, on Friday evening, this South African Premier Soccer League club's developmental side went down 1-3 to the same side when it mattered the most.
Without a trophy this season despite being in the Federation Cup and Durand Cup finals and coming agonizingly close to making the AFC Cup semi-finals, Mahindra United were third time lucky and coach Derrick Pereira's side retained the IFA Shield title at Barasat Stadium this evening.
Without a team from Kolkata in the title clash, the 113th IFA Shield was expected to go unattended. But the turnout was healthy and it backed Mahindra United.
Two goals from Yusif Yakubu and a late finish from Sushil Kumar Singh ensured that Gregory Roelf's headed goal wouldn't derail Mahindra United's title bid.
The flanks had been a problem area for the team from South Africa and Mahindra United used it to good effect. Doughou Pierre and Steven Dias were a constant threat down the right channel, beating the inexperienced side with some nice interchange of passes. On the left, Mohammad Rafi looked a bit subdued but there was enough vacant space for Yakubu to utilise for his second goal.
Collecting a long ball from Dias on the left, he played a quick one-two with Doughou, who was outstanding in his attacking midfield role. The Ghanaian lifted the ball over advancing goalkeeper Eduan Naude and headed the ball into an empty net for his second.
Minutes earlier, Pierre had intercepted a clearance from Naude, played a couple of one-twos with Yakubu who did well to shield the ball and return it to Pierre. The Ivorian squared for Yakubu on the far post to do the needful.
The two quick goals gave Santos a nerve attack. The fluency they showed while moving forward in earlier matches was absent. Having played on Wednesday, perhaps fatigue had gripped them and though spirit was willing, the pace was a bit slow. That allowed the Mumbai side to close down the gaps.
It was not until the half-hour mark that Santos managed a foothold. They tried to stitch together some attacks and Clifton Davids came close to pulling one back four minutes later. But the striker could not get his head to a Elton Swartz cross and then found Harpreet Singh blocking his way when the ball rebounded off the defender.
Santos FC got one back a minute after resumption and then stepped on the gas in search of the equaliser. Swartz forced Mahindra United goalkeeper Subhasish Roy Chowdhury into a good save soon after and skipper Joswin Hendricks blew one over from the top of the box.
Mahindra United weathered the storm and came back with a Manjit Singh effort that went over from a position that saw him bury Mohun Bagan last season. Soon after, Pierre hit the side-netting and an overlapping Sushanth Mathew found goalkeeper Naude in his way.
It was left to substitute Sushil Kumar Singh to put the result beyond doubt when he slid in the ball to the far corner after Pierre had prised open the left flank.