It was a dramatic day in the 35th Federation Cup as there were 14 goals in four matches but both Groups B and C remain unresolved. Interestingly holders East Bengal remain in contention despite having just one point from two games while arch-rivals Mohun Bagan are still not assured of a semi-final birth although they have won both their matches so far.
Group B: Missed opportunity for Bengaluru
This was called the toughest group on paper and it has certainly lived up to its billing as going into the final round of games all four teams are in with a chance of progressing to the semis. Sporting Clube defeated East Bengal 2-1 in the early kickoff and even the official press release from the Kolkata club stated that they had bowed out of the tournament. But the defending champions would remain in contention if the Bengaluru – Rangdajied game finished all square and that’s how it ended as Lamine Tamba cancelled out Thoi Singh’s early strike.It was a missed opportunity for Bengaluru as the I-League leaders would have been through to the semis on their debut appearance had they got three points but Ashley Westwood’s side were wasteful and Rangdajied once again showed great resilience to come back.
It was an end-to-end affair between Sporting Clube and East Bengal with Armando Colaco’s side once again conceding first and trailing at the break as Victorino Fernandes scored early for the Goan side. Ryuji Sueoka converted a second half penalty to restore parity and James Moga also hit the woodwork but both teams had chances in the second period and in the end Beevan D’Mello netted a late winner for Oscar Bruzon’s side. The stalemate between Bengaluru and Rangdajied has kept everybody interested but the final two games of the group won’t kick off simultaneously.
So by the time East Bengal kickoff against Bengaluru on Tuesday evening they might be eliminated as the only result that would keep their hopes alive is a draw between Sporting Clube and Rangdajied. The red-and-gold brigade would then need to win by a two-goal margin to reach the semis for the seventh straight edition. A victory for either Sporting Clube or Rangdajied could see them through if Bengaluru fail to win but only the JSW-owned club have their fate in their own hands because maximum points against East Bengal will definitely book their place in the last four.
Sporting Clube 2-1 East Bengal
Rangdajied United 1-1 Bengaluru FC
Group C: Three teams still in contention
This group is slightly less exciting than B because Mumbai FC have been eliminated after two matchdays but any of the remaining three can still go through. So Salgaocar are in with a chance despite conceding four in their opener while Lajong are also in it even though they got embarrassed by Mohun Bagan. Spare a thought for the Mariners as they still haven’t booked a semi-final berth despite winning both their fixtures without conceding.
The Kolkata club produced one of their best performances this season to thump Lajong 6-0 with the foreign trio of Katsumi Yusa, Christopher Chizoba and Odafa Okolie being outstanding. Lajong coach Thangboi Singto didn’t want to make too many changes to his winning combination and thus retained midfielder Jibon Singh in central defence and only played club captain Minchol Son in midfield. Those decisions proved to be costly as Karim Bencherifa’s side completely exposed Lajong’s backline and with some better finishing they could have easily reached double figures.
But that one-sided result in the early kickoff wasn’t enough to decide this group as Salgaocar kept their hopes alive with a 2-1 victory over Mumbai FC. This was a contest between two teams who have problems in the attacking third but Matthew Foschini put Salgaocar in front after catching out Mumbai custodian Nidhinlal from a freekick. NP Pradeep equalised early in the second half and then it turned out to be a tale of two penalties. Gilbert Oliveira successfully converted to put Salgaocar back in the lead but Mumbai’s Yusif Yakubu could only hit the cross bar from the spot. Both sides also ended with ten men.
Mohun Bagan still lead the group and are in pole position to qualify as they only need a point against Salgaocar but they could still incredibly miss out if the Goan outfit win on Tuesday. But before that, Salgaocar must hope that Shillong Lajong fail to beat Mumbai FC or else there could be a situation where Mohun Bagan, Salgaocar and Lajong all end up on six points each. Then goal difference will favour the green-and-maroon brigade.
Shillong Lajong 0-6 Mohun Bagan
Mumbai FC 1-2 Salgaocar
Foreigner: Christopher Chizoba (Mohun Bagan) – What a signing the Nigerian is proving to be as after a string of impressive displays in the I-League, Chizoba has been outstanding in the Federation Cup as he is the top scorer in the tournament now with three.
Indian: Victorino Fernandes (Sporting Clube) – The India international scored for the second straight game in the tournament to put the Flaming Oranje in front and created numerous problems for the East Bengal defence throughout with his pace and trickery.