Into their maiden season in top-flight football, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Lajong F.C. gave Mahindra United a run for money before settling for a goalless draw in a quarterfinal league match of the 122nd Durand Cup at the Ambedkar Stadium on Monday.
Though the Mumbai outfit seemed to dominate initially, the newcomers, led by Aibor Khongjee, slowly found their bearings and by the second half, were all over Mahindras’ half.
But like their famed opponents, a goal eluded the Shillong-based team too.
Lajong nearly paid for a defensive lapse in the 20th minute but Paresh Shivalkar, who intercepted the ball, shot into the near post.
The left-winger’s right-footer aside, a few more were targetted at Gumpe Rime, Lajong’s custodian. In the 27th minute, Mohammad Rafi’s right-footer missed the net by a whisker.
Lajong had a chance to take the lead early in the second half but Subhasish Chowdhury neatly blocked Boithang Hoakip’s attempt.
Desperate to break the deadlock, Mahindra’s David Booth made a few substitutions after the halftime, but none could score the elusive goal.
Playing in the middle instead of his preferred position, Steven Dias was ineffective in the first half. But once he was shuttled onto the right half, the winger did manage to create some opportunities.
One also got the feeling that Booth wasted time in replacing Demzil Franco with N.P. Pradeep.
Dempo drub Air India
Former champions Dempo signalled their intentions with a 4-1 drubbing of Air India in the day’s second quarterfinal league match.
Peter Carvalho put the Goans in front when he headed in Nicolau Borges’ corner in the 29th minute.
But after the breather, Dempo showed why they are one of the most feared teams in Indian football.
Ranty Martins started the demolition drive when he tapped in amidst a goalmouth melee. A tackle by Uttam Singh on Roberto Silva resulted in a penalty which Sunil Chhteri swiftly converted --- his maiden goal for Dempo.
Then came the best. Roberto Silva’s curling free-kick that crashed into the net giving Arnab Das Sharma no chance.
N.D. Opara pulled one back for Air India, but by then it was too late for the team.
Dempo eye Syrian player
Impressed with his performance in the recently concluded Nehru Cup, Dempo are trying to recruit Syria’s Abdel Razzaq Al Hussein.
The 23-year-old midfielder, who presently plays for Lebanese side Al Ansar in the AFC Cup, will become the first Syrian to represent an Indian club if it materialises.
“We can get him under the Asian quota. We observed him during the Nehru Cup and he looked very impressive,” said Dempo coach Armando Colaco.
From this season, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has allowed I-League clubs to recruit four overseas players, including an Asian.