Kuwait SC 4 (Jemaa 17, 33, Waleed 31, Hammami 48)
East Bengal 2 (Okpara 66, Lalrindika 87)
Kuwait SC: Musab Alkandari; Al Sanea, Hussain Ali Baba, Hussain Hakem, Jarah Al Ateeqi; Shereedah Al Shereedah, Waleed Ali, Chadi Hammami, Abdullah Al Buraiki (Abdullah Aldhafeeri); Rogerinho (Hadi Khamees) , Issam Jemaa.
East Bengal: Gurpreet Sandhu; Naoba Singh, Arnab Mondal, Uga Okpara, Robert Lalthlama (Cavin Lobo); Joaquim Abranches (Baljit Sahni), Mehtab Hossain, Harmanjot Khabra (Lalrindika Ralte), Saumik Dey; Edeh Chidi; James Moga.
The Kuwait champions raced to a 4-0 lead after 48 minutes thanks to a brace from Issam Jemaa and a goal each from Waleed Ali and Chadi Hammami. But East Bengal never gave up and scored two precious away goals through Okpara and Lalrindika to keep their final hopes alive.
The Kolkata club need a 2-0 or 3-1 win in the second leg in Kolkata on October 22nd to win this semi-final tie on away goals. It remains a daunting task but still very much possible.
Marcos Falopa had a surprise in the first eleven as there was no place for Lalrindika while he started with both left backs Saumik Dey and Robert Lalthlama with the former playing in a left midfield role. Club vice-captain Harmanjot Khabra started for the first time since April in central midfield alongside skipper Mehtab Hossain. Both Edeh Chidi and James Moga were also in the eleven but the former in a slightly withdrawn role.
Kuwait SC had no surprises in their starting eleven with Romanian coach Marin Ion once again opting for a diamond in midfield with Tunisia’s all-time top scorer Issam Jemaa and 2012 AFC Cup MVP Rogerinho from Brazil as the forwards upfront.
The game started slowly but Kuwait SC were dominating possession as East Bengal were giving away the ball too easily.
Chidi though had the first real effort of the game as he made space for himself and attempted a shot but it went straight to Kuwait SC goalkeeper Musab AlKandari. At the other end Kuwait SC should have taken the lead when Waleed’s cross found an unmarked Rogerinho but the Brazilian’s header was off target.
The opening goal came after Issam Jemaa broke the offside trap and finished easily past Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. East Bengal defenders were hoping for the flag to go up but Arnab Mondal was clearly playing Jemaa onside.
East Bengal responded well to the goal and could and should have been level when Chidi and Moga combined well for the first time in the game but the former missed the target from close range. The Nigerian’s initial effort was well blocked by Kuwait SC right back Sami Al Sanea but he should have scored from a kind rebound.
Kuwait SC doubled their advantage from a counter attack as East Bengal lost possession in the opposition box and the hosts punished them with a swift move. Waleed got completely free on the left side and slotted home with a powerful finish.
East Bengal looked completely out of sorts after conceding the second and soon were 3-0 down. Abdullah Al Buraikai somehow kept the ball in play and found the overlapping Al Sanea whose shot was saved by Gurpreet but Jemaa scored from the rebound to net his 15th goal in this season’s AFC Cup.
The red-and-gold brigade just couldn’t recover and even lost their composure with Mehtab Hossain getting booked for a rash challenge.
They failed to create a chance in the remainder of the first half while Kuwait SC could have increased their lead as Rogerinho and Jemaa all went close. Kuwait SC were cruising at halftime despite not getting out of second gear. They simply capitalised on East Bengal’s naivety.
East Bengal’s second half got off to the worst possible start as Gurpreet spilled Al Ateeqi’s harmless cross from a short corner and Hammami had the easiest finish as the two-time AFC Cup champions went four up. There was a hint of offside in the build up to the corner but Gurpreet can’t have any excuses as he committed a horrendous mistake for the second straight game.
Kuwait SC then enjoyed a great spell of pressure with Falopa’s side hanging on somehow but the Brazilian coach then made a double change as he introduced Lalrindika and Baljit Sahni.
It almost had an instant impact as a fine move saw Lalrindika get free on the left and his shot narrowly missed the target. Kuwait SC perhaps out of complacency dropped the tempo of their game and allowed East Bengal to come at them and from a corner the Indian club pulled one back.
Lalrindika’s corner was met with a thunderous header by Okpara as the Nigerian finally gave the Indians inside the stadium something to cheer about.
East Bengal enjoyed their best spell of the game after that goal as they started winning corners but were struggling to test AlKandari. Kuwait SC failed to raise the tempo of their game but still were looking dangerous on the counter attacks with Hammami going close and Gurpreet making a couple of smart saves as well.
Just it when it looked like that Okpara’s strike will only prove to be a consolation, Lalrindika scored a vital second away goal. The second half substitute cut inside from the left flank and beat AlKandari on his near post with a brilliant right-footed shot.
East Bengal finished the game with a flourish too and eventually won the second half. With the backing of a capacity crowd at Kolkata’s Salt Lake Stadium maybe this two-goal deficit can be overturned three weeks from now.
The Kolkata club though have made Indian football and India in general proud already with a fighting display in the second period against a team that is far superior than them on paper.