The Indian Navy snatched all three points with an upset win over Delhi FC in a Group C game at the Durand Cup 2021 on Wednesday. Centre-back Dalraj Singh towered over the rest to nod in a corner in the 86th minute at the Mohun Bagan Club Ground in Kolkata that sealed the win for the team.
This game was billed as Anwar Ali Jr's comeback, with the young defender making his return to competitive action. The 21-year-old had been diagnosed with a rare heart condition which prevented him from being medically cleared to play. He was recently allowed by the AIFF to continue playing provided he produced an affidavit taking full responsibility for his actions.
Trinidadian striker Willis Plaza gave Delhi FC the lead only for Sreyas VG to respond almost immediately for the Indian Navy. Dalraj, who also saved his side from going behind with a goal-line clearance, then sealed the points.
Both teams took their time to settle into the game, trying to find some kind of a rhythm. The first chance fell to Plaza, whose header was saved from a corner in the 15th minute.
After that tester, he made it count in the 21st minute. Midfielder Dawda Ceesay carried the ball forward after riding a couple of tackles and his low cross was only half-cleared. The ball fell kindly to Plaza who slotted it past the goalkeeper to make it 1-0 for Delhi FC.
Five minutes later, they were pegged back. What initially began as an Indian Navy counter-attack lost momentum as it entered the final third. But right winger Nihal Sudeesh surged down the flank and his cut-back was clinically finished by the impressive Sreyas.
Delhi could have retaken the lead just before half-time when Sergio Barboza sent Plaza through. But the new signing was thwarted by Indian Navy goalkeeper Bhaskar Roy.
The second half began in similarly sluggish fashion with neither side creating any chances in the first half hour period. Delhi FC made a few substitutions and started finding openings in a tiring Indian Navy defense.
Two successive chances came their way in the 78th minute, the first cannoning off Plaza into the grateful Bhaskar’s arms. The second saw Barboza through on goal but a poor touch let him down and Bhaskar was able to smother.
Dalraj then stamped his authority on the game. In the 82nd minute, he was in the right place at the right time to clear a goal-bound effort from substitute Radhakanta Singh. Four minutes later, he scored the winning goal.
A mistake from Delhi FC goalkeeper Manvir Singh led to an Indian Navy corner in the 86th minute. Manvir was then powerless to stop a bullet header from Dalraj at the far post from midfielder Harikrishna’s in-swinging corner.
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This was the first victory for an armed forces side in the Durand Cup 2021 and it was a well-deserved one. Before even a ball was kicked, both teams would have looked at this as the most winnable game in Group C since the other two sides are Kerala Blasters and Bengaluru FC.
The Indian Navy have taken a giant step towards possible qualification to the quarterfinals with all three points. Delhi FC, in contrast, have a lot of work on their hands.