East Bengal delivered a sobering lesson alright, but not before they were pushed to the back foot for a considerable time by the future of Indian football.
All four goals came in the second half and till then, it was all about how AIFF XI punched above their weight. Almost foolproof defending, hard but fair tackles, fast counterattacks and above all, good reflexes made even a well-rehearsed and experienced side such as East Bengal look slow off the blocks and surprisingly vulnerable.
“We made it difficult for us in the first half,” East Bengal coach Trevor James Morgan said. “They (AIFF XI) pressed hard and we couldn’t play freely, even though we had created some chances.”
Moulded to defend first and then attack if provided space, AIFF XI were content to frustrate East Bengal’s constant forays.
Tolgay Ozbey was perhaps the most frustrated of them all, watching all his strikes being thwarted by goalkeeper Jagroop Singh, the upright or the back of defenders who came between his powerful shots and the goal.
At times, lax East Bengal defending allowed AIFF XI a few sights on goal but inexperience upfront meant they could not take advantage. “That was the best period of play for us,” said AIFF XI coach Desmond Bulpin. “Had we converted at least one of those chances, it could have been different.”
But recovering from poor start has become instinctive for this East Bengal team, who won their third successive I-League match on Sunday. “The response from the team at half time spoke volumes,” Morgan said. “I just didn’t have to tell them anything.”
It took Penn Orji’s cross from the left and Robin Singh’s deft tap to ease the nerves at a restless East Bengal camp.
In the 69th minute, Orji took possession of a defence-splitting through from Sanju Pradhan and smashed home on the run.
Robin’s second goal is probably the I-League’s finest till date. Starting from the right sideline, the 20-year-old hurtled across the turf, slalomed his way past AIFF XI defenders, swivelled and smashed an unbeatable left-footer from the far left.
Ozbey also got his due five minutes later, chesting down a cheeky lob from Orji and slotting it past Jagroop. The Australian has scored in each of East Bengal’s I-League outings so far.
“You can’t be harsh on them (AIFF XI). They are young and will improve, unfortunately, from defeats,” said Morgan.
Bulpin couldn’t agree more. “I have no qualms in admitting that we lost against one of the best teams in the country.
“East Bengal, along with Dempo, are among the frontrunners this I-League. This team is so experienced that it’s difficult to beat them.”
Final score: East Bengal 4 (Robin Singh 51, 75, Penn Orji 69, Tolgay Ozbey 80)
AIFF XI 0