East Bengal marched to the finals of the 117th edition of the IFA Shield after beating eternal rivals Mohun Bagan at the Salt Lake Stadium in the semi-final to book a meeting with Prayag United. The match had ended 1-1 after extra time and had to be decided on penalties, with Trevor Morgan's men winning the shootout 4-2.
CS Sabeeth had given Karim Bencherifa's team an early second half lead in the 47th minute, which was cancelled out by Andrew Barisic's stunning effort in the 86th minute. In the shootout Edeh Chidi, Barisic, Sanju Pradhan and Baljit Singh Sahni scored for East Bengal with only Jewel Raja and Aiborlang Khongjee finding the net for Mohun Bagan. While skipper Odafa Okolie and Nirmal Chhetri missed for Bagan, Naoba Singh was the only guilty party for the opposition.
Trevor Morgan had started with an attacking lineup with Robin Singh and Edeh Chidi starting upfront flanked by Sanju Pradhan and Penn Orji providing the width, while 20 year old custodian, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was elected to start in goal.
Karim Bencherifa made the tough decision to bench Tolgay Ozbey and start with Quinton Jacobs in midfield to support the marauding Odafa who was partnered by Sabeeth. With Syed Rahim Nabi missing due to injury, Aiborlang Khongjee was the makeshift left back while Mehrajuddin Wadoo partnered Ichezona Anyichie in central defense.
East Bengal could have been ahead in the fifth minute of the match itself as Edeh Chidi almost got at the end of a long ball after Shilton Paul had completely misjudged the flight. Mohun Bagan replied the favour in the 11th minute when Jewel Raja darted down the left getting past two Red and Gold players but his angled drive into the goal from that acute angle went just wide, much to the relief of Sandhu.
The rest of the half was a drab affair, with Morgan's men atleast pushing up to attack, but the brillaint Ichezona had Chidi all worked out and long balls played into him were of no avail, with the Bagan centre-back winning that battle time and again.
While East Bengal mainly relied on long balls to their towering front men, Mohun Bagan decided to play it around patiently, with short passes but was plagued by rampant miss passing which meant that none of their link up play bore any fruit, and Odafa was isolated for long times. Even when the big man got the ball, the Red and Golds were effective in double teaming him, winning back the ball with ease.
A minute before half time, Odafa did manage to wriggle out and almost found Sabeeth clean through on goal, with the goalie to beat but the pass being slightly overhit, led to the opportunity going wasted.
The second half saw an entirely transformed Mariners side, probably due to some choice words spoken by Karim Bencherifa at half time. It took them all but two minutes to open the scoring. It was Odafa who was the architect as he won the ball at the edge of the box, and inspite of being surrounded by Red shirts managed to get a shot away after receiving Nirmal Chhetri's pass. The deflection off an East Bengal player was picked up by an alert Sabeeth who smashed the ball past Gurpreet, with the defenders appealing for offside.
Just two minutes later, Bagan could have doubled their advantage after Quinton Jacobs and Odafa neatly exchanged passes before Odafa had played the Namibian through only for Manish Maithani to get mixed up and be declared offside.
This was followed by a period of concerted pressure from the Mariners with Quinton Jacobs proving to be the difference as he played short passes, making little triangles, before moving forward into dangerous positions. What was lacking was the end product.
However, East Bengal slowly began to seize the advantage as they looked hungry to score, and with Bagan adopting a much defensive posture to protect their slender lead. This turned out to be a tactical blunder by Karim Bencherifa as new man Andrew Barisic equalised with four minutes of normal time to go with a stunning shot that gave Shilton Paul no chance. Sanju Pradhan's brilliant dummy had set up the Australian for the snapshot who made no mistake at all.
This took the match to extra time with Bagan finally providing some impetus in attack as the newly introduced Tolgay Ozbey looked to wreak havoc in the East Bengal defense, but the ever dependable Uga Okpara proved a great foil for the former team-mate.
With the match going to penalties, it took a brilliant save from Gurpreet to keep Odafa's freekick out and keep the Red and Golds with a chance of progression.
With Bagan making a hash of their first two penalties, Odafa's shot expertly saved by Sandhu again and Nirmal hitting the bar, East Bengal held their nerves to win the encounter 4-2.
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