Local favourites Mohammedan Sporting Club overcame FC Bengaluru United 4-2 in the first semifinal of the Durand Cup at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata on Monday to enter their sixth final of the historic tournament. Marcus Joseph and Faisal Ali scored for Mohammedan in regulation time while Brandon Vanlalremdika and Nikola Stojanovic found the target during extra time to seal their victory and keep their quest for a third Durand title alive.
It was a comeback victory as well with Mohammedan reeling things back after going down by a goal in the first minute of the game. Bengaluru United talisman Pedro Manzi gave his side the lead in the 22nd second of the game. Bengaluru United ended the match with 10 men on the pitch with Manzi being sent off during added time in the second half.
Mohammedan manager Andrey Chernyshov went in with his trusted XI and the 4-4-2 formation in front of vociferous local support from the stands. Richard Hood, the Bengaluru coach, started with a similar formation but decided to start with a fresh face, giving Anup Theres Raj his first start of the tournament at left back. Sanju Pradhan, a regular, started on the bench.
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Things could not have started better for Bengaluru with a move down the right flank involving Yumnam Gopi Singh straight after kick-off finding Manzi in space on top of the box. He was given a second bite of the cherry by the Sporting defence and made no mistake with a booming drive giving keeper Zothanmawia no chance.
Mohammedan responded with intent though. Milan Singh had the first good shot at goal but it was the Trinidadian Marcus who was destined to equalize for Sporting.
The move came from the left of the box, with Marcus cutting across the ’keeper with his left foot. A trademark now almost. It was his fifth in this edition’s Durand putting him in running for the golden boot of the tournament.
The Mohammedan attack line, led by Serbian Stojanovic and ably supported by the likes of Azharuddin Mallik, SK Faiaz, Faisal and Marcus were displaying some slick football and stitched together quite a few attractive moves.
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From one such move, Marcus found Faisal in the clear inside the box on the left and the youngster came up with a clinical finish, beating Kunzang Bhutia.
The second-half began as the first had ended with Mohammedan looking to take control. Kingshuk Debnath, a local boy, got Bengaluru back in the game in the 78th minute, slotting home from a melee in the box following a corner.
Bengaluru’s fight following the goal was given a blow after Manzi was shown red after a second bookable offence in added time. The send off forced Hood to bring in team fitness-coach-cum-player Chelston Pinto to help his team fight through 30 minutes of extra time.
The change that made the difference in the outcome of the match was the one made by Chernyshov in the 83rd minute when he had brought on the pacy Brandon Vanlalremdika to replace SK Faiaz on the right.
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The diminutive winger peppered the 10-man United defence in the second half with Stojanovic providing him ample support and supply.
In one such move in the dying stages of the first 15 minutes of extra-time, the Serbian found him in the clear inside the box. The Mizoram player had quite a bit to do with two defenders challenging him. He shrugged them off with two deft body feints, first inside then outside and unleashed a grounder with pin-point accuracy to beat Bhutia.
The final goal of the contest was fittingly scored by Stojanovic who blasted a penalty past Bhutia in the 110th minute of the game.
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