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East rise in east

sports Updated: Jan 04, 2010 00:50 IST
Somshuvra Laha

Abhra Mondal ensured Stanley Rozario’s penalty-shootout nightmares continue as the 25-year-old pulled off three consecutive saves to hand East Bengal their sixth Federation Cup.

With that, East Bengal ended Lajong FC’s dream run and a trophy drought that began in September 2007. That they did it without conceding a goal in the 31st edition of the tournament makes the feat even more special.

Perhaps expectations and the pressure of playing the final in front of a partisan crowd got to Lajong FC. They weren’t the same side that had impressed with free-flowing football. Sometimes a tad too defensive, Lajong FC were often guilty of not providing the thrust required to break East Bengal.

There was no goal from open play after 120 minutes but the first half saw some rivetting action. Lajong FC, fast and agile as always, capitalised on lapses to sneak into the East Bengal 18-yard-box but the central defensive duo of Mehrajuddin Wadoo and Uga Okpara stood tall. And striker Seikhohau Tuboi lacked the finishing touch to cap a fine run in the tournament.

Lajong FC too defended well. Wailadmi Passah hardly gave free space to Ghanaian striker Yusif Yakubu.

Harmanjot Khabra and Subash Singh continuously switched flanks to keep the Lajong backline guessing and with time, East Bengal took control.

Khabra was off target with a Sanju Pradhan corner-kick but on the half-hour mark, he produced a brilliant cross from the right which, a diving Yakubu couldn’t connect with a header. Yakubu also unleashed an ambitious piledriver that was tipped over by Lajong FC goalkeeper Gumpe Rime. That was preceded by a Subhash shot which was deflected off Zoumingliana Ralte.

East Bengal coach Philippe de Ridder introduced Budhiram Tudu and Bhaichung Bhutia near the hour-mark to add bite to the attack. In between though, Khabra fluffed another chance when he speared a Pradhan free-kick.

Yakubu, who had a terrible time upfront, had withdrawn to the midfield by then. That left Khabra and Tudu --- with Bhutia in the middle --- to lead the attack but the trio clearly lacked penetration.

In the dying minutes of regulation time, Lajong FC had two chances but neither skipper Samson Ramengmawia nor Tuboi could finish off the game.

East Bengal were battling fitness issues in extra-time but Lajong FC couldn’t capitalise on it and the match went into the penalty shootout.

They finally ran out of luck as Mondal was brilliant in his anticipation, blocking Gurung, Samson and Kirshan Lyngshing off consecutive spot kicks.

Although Khabra missed with the third attempt, Sanju made no mistake in foxing Gumpe to lunge to his left, while coolly placing the ball in the far upper corner of the net to seal East Bengal’s win.