Sai Gon Xuan Thanh 0-0 East Bengal
East Bengal held Vietnam Cup holders Sai Gon Xuan Thanh to a goalless draw in an AFC Cup Group H match in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to end a 10-match losing streak in AFC Cup away matches. The last time East Bengal avoided defeat in an away match was back in 2008 when they defeated Jordan’s Al Wehdat 2-0.
The red-and-gold brigade had a few half chances while their goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu had to make a couple of vital saves but in the end neither side managed to score. With the other game in the group between Malaysia’s Selangor FA and Singapore’s Tampines Rovers ending in a 3-3 draw, East Bengal now share the top spot with Sai Gon with both sides having four points each and level on goal difference.
East Bengal coach Trevor Morgan made just one change to the team that started in the 1-0 win over Selangor FA as Gurwinder Singh replaced Raju Gaikwad as Uga Okpara’s central defensive partner.
The versatile Harmanjot Singh Khabra once again started at right back while Nigerian Edeh Chidi and Australian Andrew Barisic were paired upfront as Morgan started with all four foreigners.
Hosts Sai Gon Xuan Thanh, who had won 3-2 away at Singapore’s Tampines Rovers on matchday one, started with a 4-4-2 system with Nigerian striker Emeka Ndubuisi Oguwike starting alongside the dangerous Christian Nsi Amougou upfront.
Sai Gon started the game brightly and could have been in front but for the excellent reflexes of young Gurpreet Sandhu, who was aiming for his second straight clean sheet in the AFC Cup.
East Bengal then slowly settled into the game and created a few decent openings with the midfield four of Mehtab Hossain, Penn Orji, Sanju Pradhan and Lalrindika Ralte working very hard off the ball as well.
Nigerians Penn and Chidi had East Bengal’s best efforts in the first half but both of them failed to work Sai Gon goalkeeper Bui Tah Truong despite getting into good positions.
In the second half Gurpreet produced another good save to deny Cameroonian Amougou and preserve his clean sheet. But besides that, there weren’t too many clear cut chances as both sides cancelled each other out.
East Bengal actually saw a lot of the ball in the second half but were struggling to get behind the Sai Gon back four but much of it was down to the Vietnam team’s cautious approach as they made plenty of defensive changes.
Morgan too made a defensive substitution by bringing on Naoba Singh in place of skipper Sanju which saw Khabra move to right midfield.
Clearly the English coach was content to return to Kolkata with a point and although he did change his set of strikers in the last ten minutes, the red-and-gold brigade didn’t threaten to score but were solid at the back and didn’t look like conceding.
Under Morgan, East Bengal had lost each of their previous six AFC Cup away matches so this first point will not only boost their chances of reaching the next round but also give them confidence for the IFA Shield and I-League title run-in.
Sai Gon Xuan Thanh: Bui Tah Truong, Nguyen Thanh Long Giang, Le Hai Anh, Truong Dinh Laut, Moses Oloya, Nguyen Trong Phi (Lu Vo Nhu Quang 80), Nguyen Duc Linh (Pham Thua Chi 62), Phan Luu The Son, Phan Do Nhat Tan, Christian Nsi Amougou, Emeka Ndubuisi Oguwike (Pham Quang Chi 75).
East Bengal: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu; Harmanjot Singh Khabra, Gurwinder Singh, Uga Okpara, Saumik Dey; Sanju Pradhan (Naoba Singh 64), Mehtab Hossain, Penn Orji, Lalrindika Ralte; Andrew Barisic (Robin Singh), Edeh Chidi (Baljit Sahni 88).