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Mohun Bagan 1-1 (2-4) East Bengal: 5 talking points from the IFA Shield semi-final

Karim the tactician: A maker and a destroyer

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It’s hard to remember a Mohun Bagan team play with such verve and panache as they did during the first half hour of the second period. Karim Bencherifa played a master-stroke yesterday to bring Mohun Bagan back into the game after they had spent much of the first  half on the back foot. The change in formation from the Moroccan saw Odafa play more to the left, while C.S. Sabeeth, who had been in great goal scoring form of late, pushed up to play off the Nigerian powerhouse. The move swiftly paid dividends, as it was Odafa who set up Sabeeth early in the second half to give Mohun Bagan the lead.

The goal was the culmination of a long period of pressure from the Green and Maroon, as they pressed hard inside East Bengal’s own half, and to the awe of a lot of their own fans outplayed East Bengal at the passing game.

Then came the mistake, as after conceding the late equaliser Bencherifa pulled off Quentin Jacobs, who had proved to be the main man in the engine room of the Bagan midfield. It was Tolgay Ozbey who replaced the Namibian, and Sabeeth was asked to play the role of chief architect that Jacobs had been playing. While Sabeeth put his all to the cause, he was never quite as effective, but in the bigger scheme of things Tolgey Ozbey flopped in the biggest way possible.

His biggest contributions were a left-footed shot which hit the side netting and a hoofed clearance from the edge of the box. Many may say that the penalty shoot-out defeat was not in any way to be blamed on him, but it was East Bengal in command after outplaying their opponents for almost the whole of the extra time period. The mentality while going into crunch situations matter, and so it proved as Mohun Bagan crumbled, missing their first two attempts from the spot.

Odafa the poisoned chalice

Odafa Okolie is treated as a demi-god by Mohun Bagan fans. Their prized possession, their chalice of esteem. The whole team has been built around the Nigerian for the past two seasons. But what has been it worth for the Mariners in the bigger scheme of things?

10 minutes of grit and dribbling brilliance, coupled with 80 minutes of lethargic  non-committal play from currently one of highest paid footballers in the Indian circuit is what is for grabs these days. When you pay around 2 crores for a player’s services in India, you generally expect more than what the Nigerian had been providing the Green and Maroon.

Arm waving and refusing come deep to influence play hardly provides inspiration in any form for the other players, while he hardly tries making the others around him look good. With the sums that Mohun Bagan have spent in the last couple of years and the results that they have been seeing for their expenses, they will have to question themselves soon enough if it is worth it.

Chidi shows the way

While Odafa was the epitome of a prima donna, Edeh Chidi‘s contributions made it possible for East Bengal to make the comeback. With Penn Orji unable to control the pace and tempo for the Red and Gold in midfield, Trevor Morgan decided that it was time for the introduction of Andrew Barisić. It meant that East Bengal carried a three-pronged attack for the Red and Gold, with the Australain alongside Chidi and Baljit Sahni.

Though frustrated for most of the match by the presence of Mohun Bagan’s Iche, the Nigerian started to wield his influence late in the game, and came in deeper to have a bigger say. It was his central role that made it possible for East Bengal to use the flanks effectively.

The 3 Ps of East Bengal: Pace, Power and Persistence

Though they were outplayed in the beginning of the second half and looked the likelier side to concede, the East Bengal backline held on as they weathered the storm, and came out of it only a goal down.

The Red and Gold had dominated much of the proceedings in the first half  while creating a couple of good chances for them to take the lead. They again went on offensive, building the pressure again in the latter stages of the second half, and exploited the wings, especially the right where Sanju Pradhan was leading his team from the front.

The quicker pace and tempo of their attacks were taking a toll on the Bagan defense. Wave after wave of attacks on the Bagan goal became the order of the day, and finally their perseverance paid off in the 88th minute. Their never-say-die attitude had paid off.

A moment of magic 

I think those four words aptly explain what happened when the ball met the boots of a certain Australian named Andrew Barisic in the 88th minute. Mohun Bagan had held on to their lead admirably through some staunch performances, especially at the back from Mehrajuddin Wadoo and Iche, but they didn’t have a prayer when the Australian drilled in the equaliser 2 minutes from time.

The ball had rolled into the path of the Australian after a flick-on from a throw-in from the right, and the rest, as they say, is history. The Australian hit it first time, curling it in to the top left of Shilton Paul’s goal to bring the Red and Gold section of the crowd to raptures.

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