Thursday’s second semi-final between East Bengal and Chirag United at the Ambedkar Stadium probably saw the biggest crowd yet in this Durand Cup. And it was here that reigning Federation Cup champions East Bengal’s juggernaut, which had rolled to 18 straight wins this season, juddered to a halt.
Mohammed Rafiq’s late strike took Chirag United to their maiden Durand Cup final. For scripting the biggest upset in domestic football this season, Chirag announced a reward of R25,000 to the players.
Going into the semifinal with a litany of injury worries and pegged back by Mehtab Hossain’s suspension, East Bengal coach Trevor Morgan was forced to rely on his bench. Morgan gave Ravinder Singh and Sushant Matthew a run out in midfield and got young striker Budiram Tudu to partner Robin Singh, who himself wasn’t match-fit.
Chirag attacked from the start with a fifth minute cross from Subhash Chakraborty which Rafiq headed over Sandip Nandy’s goal. Chirag threatened again in the 28th minute when K. Asif delivered a cutting through ball to Chakraborty, which resulted in a one-on-one with Nandy. Ravinder cut across to tackle Chakraborty much to the relief of the East Bengal supporters. After the breather, East Bengal looked a tad sharper. Khabra picked up a yellow card in the 75th minute for a foul on Brazilian Josimar Martins.
The 83rd minute provided East Bengal’s best chance of the evening. Khabra’s left-footed shot, set up by a series of passes between Pradhan and right-back Naoba Singh, dipped dangerously to hit the Chirag United horizontal but was swiftly cleared by Narugopal Hait.
Ultimately, it was to be Chirag’s night and Rafiq’s harmless left-footer from outside the box in the 85th minute took a deflection off Chhetri to beat Nandy who reacted too late. The men in purple played out the clock to set up a dream final date with JCT.
“They had four or five injuries that helped us. But we played well and deserved the win,” said Chirag coach Subroto Bhattacharya.