East Bengal 4 (Chidi pen 8, Barisic 45, Penn 54, 59) Sai Gon Xuan Thanh 1 (Amougou 62)
East Bengal thumped Vietnam club Sai Gon Xuan Thanh 4-1 in Kolkata on Tuesday to win Group H and become the first Indian club to end their AFC Cup group stage campaign unbeaten.
Edeh Chidi put East Bengal in front from a controversial penalty and Andrew Barisic doubled their advantage just before the interval. Penn Orji bagged a second half brace while Christian Nsi Amougou netted a consolation for the Vietnam side.
Unfortunately for Sai Gon, they also failed to qualify for the round of 16 following Selangor’s 3-2 win away at Singapore’s Tampines Rovers. East Bengal also set the record for most points registered by an Indian club in the AFC Cup group stage as they finished with 14 points from six matches.
The Kolkata club will have home advantage in the one-legged pre-quarterfinal clash on May 15. Their opponents will be either Yangon United of Myanmar or Maldives’ New Radiant.
With Mehtab Hossain suspended and Harmanjot Singh Khabra injured, East Bengal started without any defensive midfielder in the middle of the park. Skipper Sanju Pradhan shared that responsibility with Cavin Lobo, while Naoba Singb replaced Khabra at right back.
But Sai Gon Xuan Thanh had even bigger issues, as they had only two substitutes, and with the temperature being above 40 degrees it was always going to be a tough challenge for the Vietnam club. Their only hope was the explosive strike pairing of Cameroonian Christian Nsi Amougou and Nigerian Emeka Ndubuisi Oguwike
A point would have been useful for both sides, but East Bengal were determined to take all three points and maintain their perfect home record.
Both clubs started slowly but East Bengal were awarded a penalty out of nothing in the eighth minute when Phan Luu The Son made a challenge on Chidi. It was clumsy, but there was minimum contact and thus the awarding of the penalty came as a shock to both sides.
Chidi however kept his cool and successfully converted the penalty to net his third goal of this AFC Cup.
There was more controversy when Oguwike’s goal was ruled out by the linesman. Initially, it looked like the flag was up for offside but replays suggested that the goal could have only been deemed illegal for a foul by Oguwike on Gurwinder Singh.
The game was being played at a very slow pace, but there were some half chances at both ends. Chidi showed some fine skills to create space for a shot but his effort was off target, while Nguyen Duc Linh went close from a freekick for Sai Gon.
As the half wore on, Sai Gon were starting to tire but they were willing to shoot from distance, and from one such long ranger Phan Do Nhat Tan forced a save from Gurpreet.
East Bengal also started to ease up and had a couple of scares. First, Amougou intercepted Naoba’s backpass and saw his effort go past Gurpreet, but it was cleared off the line by Gurwinder.
Minutes later, Oguwike had a golden opportunity from close range when East Bengal failed to clear a routine cross, but the Nigerian put his effort wide.
East Bengal made the visitors pay almost immediately as Saumik Dey’s through ball sent Andrew Barisic clear through on goal and the Australian finished clinically to put the Kolkata club two up at halftime.
The floodlights were on in the second half, but the humidity still made it difficult for the Sai Gon players, as they didn’t look like staging a comeback.
East Bengal were not even out of second gear, but went three up just nine minutes into the second period when an unmarked Penn headed home Naoba’s well-measured cross from the right flank.
Even before Sai Gon could react, the red-and-gold brigade found their fourth, and once again it was through Penn. The Nigerian has had his worst season for East Bengal but once again finished well with a header when Chidi found him with a low cross.
Sai Gon pulled one back through Amougou when a lapse of concentration in the East Bengal defence allowed Oguwike to find the Cameroonian, who slotted past Gurpreet.
East Bengal: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Naoba Singh, Gurwinder Singh (Arnab Mondal 64), Uga Okpara, Saumik Dey (Robert Lalthlamuana 84), Sanju Pradhan (Ishfaq Ahmed 82), Cavin Lobo, Penn Orji, Lalrindika Ralte, Andrew Barisic, Edeh Chidi.
Sai Gon Xuan Thanh: Nguyen Minh Nhut, Dinh Hoang Max (Lu Vo Nhu Quang 68), Nguyen Duc Linh, Nguyen Thanh Long Giang, Nguyen Trong Phi, Ngo Phuong Nam, Pham Thua Chi, Phan Luu The Son, Phan Do Nhat Tan, Christian Nsi Amougou (Pham Quang Chi 74), Emeka Ndubuisi Oguwike.