Mohammedan Sporting Club knocked out defending champions Gokulam Kerala 1-0 to enter the semifinals of the Durand Cup 2021 on Thursday. A solitary strike from Marcus Joseph was enough to send the 7,400 fans into raptures at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata.
Trinidadian Joseph was the top scorer at the Durand Cup in 2019 when Gokulam became champions. His first-half goal on Thursday, combined with a masterful defensive display by Mohammedan, ensured a last-four tie against FC Bengaluru United.
Before the game, it was announced that 10,000 fans would be permitted into the stadium. Though the attendance fell a bit short of that number, those present made their voices count, generating a raucous atmosphere.
The game got off to a fast start. In the 3rd minute, Gokulam striker Rahim Osumanu flicked a long ball into the path of winger Chisom Elvis Chikatara. Nigerian Chikatara beat his man but his second touch let him down and goalkeeper Zothanmawia smothered the ball.
At the other end, Mohammedan captain Nikola Stojanovic robbed his Gokulam counterpart Sharif Mohammad of the ball. He drove forward and shot from outside the box but it was well wide of the mark.
Osumanu then drew another save from Zothanmawia after a cross from left-back Muhammed Uvais fell into his path.
Another long-range effort at Gokulam's end came through Joseph who dropped deep to collect the ball. He tried his luck from 25 yards but goalkeeper Rakshit Dagar pushed it over the bar.
In the 42nd minute, Gokulam thought they had taken the lead but the offside flag came to Mohammedan’s rescue. Winger Beneston Barretto’s effort looked to be on its way in but Osumanu, in an offside position, got the final touch.
That turned out to be a pivotal moment in the game as Mohammedan scored the very next minute. Stojanovic sent Joseph through and the Trinidadian took on his man before unleashing a left-footed shot past Dagar into the bottom corner.
Mohammedan show brilliant defense in second half
The second half was all about Mohammedan’s game management and they gave a masterclass in it. Keeping their shape intact when out of possession, they allowed Gokulam just one shot on target in the entire second half.
That was just after the hour mark when Sharif’s looped free-kick was headed towards goal but Zothanmawia saved it.
Mohammedan themselves could have doubled their lead and their best chance fell to winger SK Faiaz. Joseph found himself in a goalscoring position in the penalty box but a bad touch let him down.
The semi-final matchup will see Mohammedan lock horns again with FC Bengaluru United. The latter overcame the Black Panthers 2-0 in their Group A encounter earlier in the tournament.
FC Bengaluru United were given a bye into the semis after their opponents Army Red withdrew, citing COVID positive cases within the squad.