qualify for the pre-quarter finals of this continental competition. The last time they got out of the group - in the summer of 2004 under coach Subhas Bhowmick - the world hadn't heard of either Lionel Messi or MS Dhoni.
The AFC Cup didn't have a round of 16 then and East Bengal had qualified for the quarter-finals. But even then, East Bengal didn't top the group. After four games in group H, East Bengal are in pole position with 10 points and could meet either the Maldives's New Radiant or Yangon United of Myanmar in the next round.
Till Ralte's shot swooshed into the top corner on a frizzling mid- summer afternoon, Tampines Rovers of Singapore seemed to be escaping with a draw.
Mohammed Shaiful bin Esah Nain's free-kick had neutralised Edeh Chidi's goal when Ralte got the ball opposite to where he had fired the matchwinner against Selangor from.
Tampines Rovers were down to 10 men then, having used up their substitutions before central defender Yamashita Kunihiro got injured trying to bulldoze Chidi off the ball in the 82nd minute. "When we saw Ralte opening his body, we knew what was coming. He really has a good left foot," said coach Trevor James Morgan who is on the last lap of a three-year stint at East Bengal.
Ralte's goal against Selangor last February had fetched East Bengal their first win in nearly five years and 21 AFC Cup ties. It had also ensured that Morgan's 13th AFC Cup tie for the club would be anything but unlucky.
Till he struck, Ralte was just another of East Bengal's attacking players making wrong decisions near the rival goal. Against a team whose defending was disjointed when not effete, East Bengal could have killed the game in the first half but Andrew Barisic, Chidi and Ralte seemed to have forgotten how to score. Rovers's goalie Sasa Dreven too prevented embarrassment twice.
And then in the 68th minute, Rovers equalised because East Bengal goalie Abhijit Mondal left the near post unguarded. "He had curled one over the 'wall' in Singapore so I had moved. It was an error in judgment," said Mondal. Three minutes later, Rovers could have dealt a sucker punch had Raju Gaikwad not tracked back to stop Sead Hadzibulic's drive.
The goal stayed elusive at the other end with Penn Orji thinking Baljit Sahni was on-side when he wasn't. Ralte then failed to put one away in the 82nd minute. Five minutes later, his left foot sang and that, as they say, was that.
Okpara, Chidi 'forget' shirts
Uga Okpara and Edeh Chidi gave Trevor Morgan reason to get shirty. They had forgotten to bring the right team shirt, managing to get them some five minutes after kick-off, said Morgan.
He was replying to why Okpara, the reliable central defender, wasn't used on Tuesday. A club official said players were issued a directive to get all three versions of the team shirts for AFC Cup games. Chidi and Okpara didn't and that caused the problem.