Mohun Bagan retails title:
SOME teams are synonymous with some tournaments. Though Mohun Bagan regained the KBL Federation Cup after four years, it has won the tournament 10 times in 20 appearances. Mohun Bagan skipped the third edition held in Guwahati in 1979. Moreover, it claimed both the premier league and knockout tournaments - the National League and the Federation Cup - this year.
Mohun Bagan defeated its arch-rival East Bengal 2-1 in the final. The champion was never much stretched throughout the tournament. Also, the fact that the big three Calcutta teams figured in the last four once again highlighted the supremacy of Bengal football, though with the help of outstation and foreign players.
The zonal qualifying rounds were held in five zones. Langsning FC of Meghalaya from North East, Jorba Durga Club of Orissa from East, JCT from North, Vasco from West and FC Kochin and State Bank of Travancore (SBT) from South made the pre-quarterfinals. Tollygunge Agragami, runner-up in East edged out Blood Mouth, the second team in the North East league 1-0 and North's runner-up PSEB got the better of West's second team Air-India 2-1 to join the other six in the last 16 stage. These eight teams joined last year's quarterfinalists Salgaocar, East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, Dempo, BSF, Churchill Brothers, Mohammedan Sporting and ITI.
There were surprises galore in the earlier rounds. While the Federation Cup came in the midst of the Calcutta league, for the Goan teams it was the season-opener. The Goan teams went straight into the tournament almost without any competitive matches. Punjab State Electricity Board (PSEB) shocked National League team, Air-India in the play-off 2-1 at Mumbai and then defeated ITI, Bangalore, 1-0 in the pre-quarters. Thanks to weak 'keeping by the ITI custodian, the Punjab side slipped past through Gurdish Singh's goal.
SBT turned the applecart on the Super Cup winner and defending champion Salgaocar 1-0 in the pre-quarters in Mumbai. It was a bit of a misfortune for the Goan side as Sylvester Ignatius dealt the decisive blow in injury time. Last year's semifinalist Dempo fell by the wayside in the pre-quarters, going down 0-2 to Vasco. Premanand Gadekar and Luis Nickson were the scorers. The ground conditions were not up to the mark. Another National League outfit, Indian Bank, Chennai, made its exit from the cluster league itself.
The tournament was played in the midst of monsoon and the grounds in most centres were not fit for such a big occasion, especially in Delhi, Mumbai and Siliguri. Even the turf at the Saltlake Stadium for the final was sticky and slippery after six days of rain.
It looks as though that Mohun Bagan has emerged the strongest side after the recent transfers. The acquisition of Samuel Omollo from East Bengal has strengthened its deep defence. Debjit Ghosh or Satyabrata Bhowmick shaped as a stopper instead of as a midfielder unlike in the league to make the deep defence more solid. Wing back Riazul Mustafa impressed with his overlapping runs. He has improved with every game and the first goal in the final came from his cross.
In the midfield RP Singh caught the eye for cutting opponents' attacks and initiating counter-moves. Even when seniors like Satyajit Chatterji and Amit Das were not in their elements RP Singh did not lose his nerve. He had to miss the semifinal and final because of injury, but his replacement Khemtang Paite was equal to the task. He brought depth into the attack, developing a quick understanding with the forwards. Iraqi medio Basim Yonan took on much of the workload and his measured crosses from the wings spelt danger to the rival defence. They got assistance from Satyajit Chatterji and Amit Das. Mohun Bagan has a surfeit of players. It has Jeevan Moraes, Soumitra Chakrabarty and Lolendra Singh to warm the bench. Moreover, Jo Paul Ancheri is yet to return from his illness.
In the attack Mohun Bagan possesses two dangerous strikers, Chima Okorie and IM Vijayan who can breach any defence. Their game sense and opportunism are such that even from half chances they can score. It did not have to exert much for the victory against FC Kochin in the pre-quarters.
After releasing all the stalwarts like, IM Vijayan, Jo Paul Ancheri, Chapman and the Nigerians like Bernard, Friday and Akinsawa, FC Kochin dressed its side with young recruits from TFA, like Naseem Akhtar, Farooq Hyder, Mahesh Gawli, AS Firoz, Prabhjot Singh, Noel Wilson, Roque Barreto, Md Najeeb, Nitin Pradhan etc. As its reliable 'keeper, Abubaker was indisposed, Kochi fielded the inexperienced Naseem Akhtar, who conceded two silly goals. If Nazeem had come out a bit early to block Vijayan's header, Okorie would not have got that gap for his volley home. Vijayan provided the final pass for Okorie's second goal, too.
Mohun Bagan then stopped the giant-killer SBT, the victor over Salgaocar through Samuel Omollo's goal in quarterfinal in Mumbai.
JCT also suffered in the inter-state transfers as there was an exodus from this team to Bengal and Mumbai. Mohammedan Sporting, which could not enter the National League proper, made up the team from the remnants or left-outs of the 'big' two. But two of its Kenyan recruits, Cassius Owino and Moses Owira gave the much needed sharpness to the attack and the two Manipuris, Gunabir Singh and Joy Kabui, brought to life the non-existent midfield. Stoppers, Amitava Ghosh and Aslam Pervez were very forthright and young coach Mridul Banerji's ploy of a defensive screen through Soumen Sardar clicked nicely.
Mohammedan Sporting edged out JCT through Casius Owino's golden goal to clash with giant-killer PSEB in the quarters. PSEB's stopper Dalip Kumar and wing back Harjinder played as wing back and striker, respectively, for Punjab in the Santosh Trophy. From Dalip's crosses Harjinder had got the goals but against Sporting they were not so effective. Both the teams, it seemed, played for a draw as there were few openings. Shanti Majumdar worked with confidence under the Sporting bar yet Subir Ghosh made a fantastic save in the final minutes even when Shanti was beaten. In 1994, Shanti helped Mohun Bagan triumph, saving two shots in the tie-breaker against Salgaocar in Margao. The same Shanti stood under the Sporting bar to thwart the first shot from Dalip Kumar and carried the team to the semifinal.
Even with those left-outs Sporting was able to shock Mohun Bagan, though it presented a scratch side, 1-0 in the league. Against a full strength Mohun Bagan, Sporting did not look a push-over and fought doggedly. Sporting, after conceding a goal to Vijayan, levelled the score through Kabui. But the pressure was too much and Okorie nodded in the match-winner.
Churchill Brothers, which was about to disband the team, finished third getting the better of Mohammedan Sporting 1-0 through Elvis Fernandes´ goal. It brought Anthony Pereira, Anthony Fernandes, Anthony Matthews, Alvito Pereira and Xavier Fernandes from Salgaocar, Cyril Barreto and Adrian Dias from Vasco, Somatai Saiza from East Bengal and Bitan Singh from RCF. But the team benefited much from the three Ghanaians, goalkeeper, Edward Ansah, stopper, Osumani Hussein and Philip Mensah. Scottish coach Danny McLennan, who left after the team's poor performance last year, rejoined the side two months before and brought about cohesion in the team. It drubbed Langsning FC of Meghalaya 7-0, Cyril Barreto scoring four goals including a hat-trick. It pipped BSF through a golden goal in the shape of a penalty, converted by Ghana striker Mensah.
It was Churchill's bad luck that it had to play the semifinal at the deplorable Kanchanjangha Stadium against East Bengal and lost 0-1. Considering the pathetic underfoot conditions, it was good fortune that except for Bibhas Ghosh there were no other major injuries. East Bengal went to Cuttack to humble Jorba Durga Club 3-1, comprised mostly of SAI trainees - three of them figured in U-16 Indian team for the Asian Youth soccer played in Hyderabad.
East Bengal's main weakness was in its defence. The departure of Omollo was a heavy blow. Though Anit Ghosh and Franky Barreto played their hearts out in the final they did not have the Kenyan's confidence. Ratan Singh, the left wing back, has improved a lot, but in the midfield Basudev Mondal was below par. Ranjan Dey played as a defensive screen and Renedy Singh and Chapman covered a lot of ground. In the attack Bhaichung Bhutia is yet to get a striking partner like IM Vijayan.
East Bengal flew to Bangalore and blasted Vasco 5-0 for a berth in the semifinal. Against Churchill Brothers, Bhutia and Renedy Singh worked in tandem on the left side. Wing back Ratan Singh also helped them with his overlapping runs. After a barren first half, the induction of Raman Vijayan for Dipendu Biswas brought more sharpness in the East Bengal attack and Bhutia gave the final pass after a nice one-two for Renedy Singh to bulge the net with his left-footer.
In the final, fielding of Kalyan Choubey after a gap of three months under the East Bengal bar proved a liability. He was always shaky in coming out of his charge. East Bengal started in a whirlwind manner but Mohun Bagan shot ahead in the 10th minute against the run of play due to Chapman's mistake. He trapped a long cross from right by Riazul. But the ball got deflected to Amit Das, who with a prompt left-footer stunned the East Bengal defence including keeper Choubey.
After that coach Manoranjan Bhattacharj blundered in inducting Tushar Rakshit for Renedy Singh, a genuine left-footer, who was coordinating well with Bhutia. East Bengal conceded the second goal as Choubey delayed in rushing to narrow the angle and IM Vijayan scored. In the fag end East Bengal pulled one back through Chapman.

Pre-quarterfinals: Mohun Bagan 2-0 FC Kochin (Calcutta); Churchill Brothers 7-0 Langsning FC (Delhi); Vasco 2-0 Dempo (Margao); East Bengal 3-1 Jorba Durga Club (Cuttack); SBT 1-0 Salgaocar (Mumbai); BSF 1-0 Tollygunge Agragami (Delhi); PSEB 1-0 ITI (Bangalore); Mohammedan Sporting 1-0 JCT Mills (Calcutta).
Quarterfinals: Md Sporting 4-3 PSEB [tie-breaker] (Calcutta); East Bengal 5-0 Vasco (Bangalore); Mohun Bagan 1-0 SBT (Mumbai); Churchill Brothers 2-1 BSF [golden goal] (Delhi).
Semifinals: East Bengal 1-0 Churchill Brothers; Mohun Bagan 2-1 Mohammedan Sporting.
Final: Mohun Bagan 2-1 East Bengal.

by Arnab Ghosh
appeared in "Sportstar" October 3 to 9, 1998

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