Goodness knows what was going through their minds? That they were under pressure from the beginning, but that usually tenacious opponents like Bengal would crumble against Services was difficult to fathom even after it had happened. Coach Krishnendu Roy, said it was the worst defeat of his career.
Running the 29-time champions into the ground was that man Sochungmi Raleng. His three-goal blitzkrieg — his second hattrick of the tournament counted for lot in the end result.
Bengal, for all their determination and motivation to do well in the trophy that has been eluding them since 2000, now were once again left to hang their heads in shame.
Bengal’s brittle defence helped Services advance. Roy was understating the obvious when he said: "Our zonal marking flopped
With two balanced outfits fighting for a berth in the final," it was expected to be a humdinger, but making nonsense of all the forecast and predictions was Raleng.
Good strikers adore a yard of space just outside the six-yard box, a glimpse of an unprotected goalkeeper looking helplessly for defenders to man the barricades. Gifted enough to make mincemeat of any state defence on his day, Raleng, to his good luck, was in the middle of such favourable situations thrice. And he delightfully gobbled up the freebies everytime.
Even as Bengal kicked off with a sudden burst of speed with Syed Rahim Nabi and Tarif Ahmed testing the Services custodian Rabikanta Singh on a couple of occasions, Services gradually started exerting pressure through wingers Mahesh Rai and Jiten Meitei.
"I had told them to sit back for the first quarter and then take the game to Bengal," Services coach Raghvendra Singh said.
They did when Habibur Rehman Mondal's clearance fell on to the path of this edition's goal-scoring machine. Raleng unleashed a drive that thudded into the Bengal post and went in. Services were in front and an upset in the offing.
While Raleng kept scoring the goals, there is no doubting the fact that the defence — Lal Dingliana, Lal Rautefela and Dileep M —too shouldered responsibility well for Services. Keeping the supply routes open in the midfield were KP Kaboi and Gordon Z. Bengal slowly ran out of stem after the breather. That Lalkamal Bhowmick pulled one back was rendered insignificant in the goal-rush that saw Services score thrice in the last 11 minutes.
Before Raleng got a brace Norgan Lama scored with a fiercely driven free-kick from the right of the area.
Scores: Services 4 (Raleng 23rd, 89th, 90th, Lama 79th) beat Bengal 1 (Lalkamal 80th).