Bagan beat Air India for semi-final tryst with East Bengal (Lead)

December 16th, 2008 - 11:10 pm ICT by IANS  

Barasat (West Bengal), Dec 16 (IANS) City giants Mohun Bagan staged a remarkable second-half rally to prevail 2-1 over tough fighters Air India and romped into the semi-final after a dramatic group D game here Tuesday. After the action-packed thriller that saw Bagan score twice in a seven-minute timespan in the latter session to more than offset Air India’s first-half lead, the 12-time winners finished their group engagements on six points - same as Vasco Sports - but made it to the pre-title round of the 30th Federation Cup football tournament on the strength of a better goal difference. Air India finished third on four points.

In the ding-dong contest, Air India went into the lead in the 26th minute through Soccer Velho, before the Kolkata side raised their game and turned the applecart after the lemon break at the packed Vidyasagar stadium.

First substitute Lal Kamal Bhowmick equalised in the 53rd minute, and then Brazilian Marcos Pereira netted the winner at the stroke of an hour with an outstanding free kick.

The stage is now set for a semi-final clash between arch-rivals East Bengal and Mohun Bagan Thursday. Goan sides Dempo Sports Club and Churchill Brothers will battle it out for the other final berth earlier the same day.

The day’s first match saw Vasco withstand constant attacks from a young Oil India side before netting late into the second half to win 1-0.

Uzbek striker Ravshan Teshabaev broke the stalemate 69 minutes into the game by heading home a corner kick.

With both teams in a must-win situation to make the cut for the semi-final, the suspense of a detective novel preceded the Air India-Mohun Bagan clash. Vasco was poised to sail through in case the airmen and the city outfit finished with a draw.

The rivals played their heart out, and scored spectacular goals, giving the spectators their money’s worth, as the ball travelled from one end to the other.

A complete silence descended at the stadium, as Velho followed up a Surojit Roy through and put Air India ahead with a right footer into the far corner of the net.

Bagan drew level shortly after the breather, with Bhowmick letting go a 22-yard pile driver that bounced before Air India goalkeeper Arup Debnath and went in.

Seven minutes later, Mohun Bagan snatched the all-important lead as Pereira’s curling and dipping free kick from just outside the box completely foxed Debnath.

Air India were no pushovers, and they launched a series of attacks causing danger time and again in the Bagan defence, but seasoned campaigner Dipak Mandal put up a fine show to thwart the raids.

But Air India did manage to gain a spotkick in the 74th minute when Bagan’s Anand Vasan was pulled up for handling the ball inside the penalty box.

Ravinder put the ball in, but the goal was disallowed and the Air India player asked to take the penalty again as he had shot before the referee Saji Kurien blew his whistle. Ravinder became a bundle of nerves and his low shot on the retake was weak and Bagan goalkeeper Sangram Mukherjee saved it diving to his left.

In the first match also, Oil India fumbled with a penalty which was given after their talented striker Durga Boro was brought down by Vasco’s Elvino Fernandes inside the box. But Nigerian recruit Okwuelum Ezekiel muffed up the golden chance with a weak shot that went straight to goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani.

After an unproductive first session, Vasco got the all-important goal when Agnelo Colaco floated a measured corner from the right and Ravshan darted in from top of the box to head home.

Both the semis and the Dec 21 final will be played at the Salt Lake Stadium.

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