East Bengal earned an away win against Indian Arrows in the I-League on Tuesday.(AIFF)
East Bengal earned an away win against Indian Arrows in the I-League on Tuesday.(AIFF)

I-League: East Bengal beat Indian Arrows, but absence of Dheeraj Singh looms large

East Bengal registered a 2-0 win over Indian Arrows in the I-League at New Delhi but the focus remained on goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh.
By Shayne Dias | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JAN 02, 2018 06:37 PM IST

The Indian Arrows might have surprised Mohun Bagan when the two sides played in Kolkata, but there was no such encore on the cards when they took on Bagan’s Kolkata rivals East Bengal.

Early goals from Mahmoud Al-Amna (13th minute) and Katsumi Yusa (16th) were enough to give East Bengal a 2-0 win over the young side and a four-point lead on the top of the I-League table ahead of Minerva Punjab FC.

Indian Arrows coach Luis Norton de Matos had said on the eve of the game that the departure of Dheeraj Singh was in fact a chance for Prabhsukhan Singh Gill to step up.

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However, the youngster made a poor first impression on the big stage as East Bengal’s first goal came as a direct result of his error.

After the away side won a free-kick on the left wing, Al-Amna fired a shot straight at the near post but what should have been a routine save ended up in the back of the net.

Naturally, this led to many questions after the game, about how Dheeraj’s departure was affecting the team, for head coach de Matos.

In turn, he insisted that his new goalkeeper could “easily be as good as the boy who was India’s first choice goalkeeper during the FIFA U-17 World Cup”.

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“I believe Gill could be as good as Dheeraj in the future because he has the potential, but right now he lacks the experience,” was the coach’s response when quizzed about Gill’s error.

When faced with further questions on Dheeraj, de Matos’ displeasure at the fact that his young charge left the Arrows set-up was evident.

“There are certain people, like agents, who don’t sometimes understand what is best for a player. I believed it would have been better for Dheeraj to play I-League for a bit and then take trials abroad.”

“As of now, he won’t be able to play for another 7-8 months because he is not yet 18. And that is time lost for him. I even advised him against leaving. But I hope I’m wrong in thinking that this decision won’t be best for him,” said the Portuguese.

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The manager also assuaged fears about other players flying the coop in the middle of the season, revealing that his other players are all properly contracted to the All India Football Federation (AIFF).

East Bengal manager Khalid Jamil was complimentary of the young side. “They played well today. They just got a little unlucky at times.”

He also refused to be drawn into discussions of his side possibly going on to lift the I-League title at the end of the season. “There is still a long way to go for us.”

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