BY AYUSH SRIVASTAVA Follow @ayush_sri on twitter
East Bengal held off a spirited Semen Padang side, to book their place in the semi-finals of the AFC Cup.
It was never easy, and at times the Red and Gold tethered on the edge, as a Gurpreet Singh Sandhu error saw Edward Wilson neutralize the lead the Kolkatan side had garnered in the first leg.
However at the end, a James Moga strike smoothened the road to progression for East Bengal, and Marcos Falopa will be a relieved man, as he has managed to pass his first test as Trevor Morgan’s successor.
The Brazilian was forced to juggle his options before the game, and decided to deploy Saumik Dey in midfield, trusting Robert Lalthlamuana at left-back.
Upfront he made a big call in leaving the physical presence of James Moga on the bench, after the poor performance in the first leg by the South Sudanese striker. Ryuji Sueoka partnered Chidi Edeh upfront, with Joaquim Abranches and Lalrindika Ralte providing further attacking impetus to the side.
Falopa though, set them up in a very defensive manner, hoping to absorb the pressure put by their Indonesian hosts, while asking his midfielders to press their counterparts, as much as possible.
Semen Padang thus, enjoyed a lot of the possession, and made a couple of forays forward which had the defense of East Bengal on alert. However soon they were gifted a goal by Gurpreet’s horrendous error, which sent Falopa’s plan to frustrate the opposition out of the window.
The Indonesians had several other chances to take the lead, but East Bengal held on.
They were handed a further reprieve by an injury to Wilson, which blunted the Indonesian side’s edge upfront, while a wrong offside call saved them, when a Semen Padang attacker was clean through.
It was worrying, how the midfield seemed to have no control on the proceedings, and the strikers failed to really hold the ball up, with James Moga, who replaced an injured Sueoka, being virtually anonymous.
The South Sudanese striker failed to provide any sort of respite to his defenders, and was easily outmuscled.
However all ended well for the Kolkatan outfit, as the striker got on the end of a Baljit Sahni cross to bury Semen Padang’s hopes of progression.
The happy ending means that most people will not remember the scrappy performance, but Falopa must keep it in mind for the future, as they are likely to run into tougher oppositions in the semi-final.
Add to that, the club has to return its focus on the I-League, and the Brazilian has plenty to ponder over.
The patchy form of his strikers will definitely be a source of worry, while Gurpreet will also need to be on his toes, with a lot of competition for his spot.
It would though, be unfair on the club, to take away any shine from their moment of glory. The belief within the ranks is growing, that this could be the season where they take away the AFC Cup title to Kolkata.
And with some minor tweaks, Falopa could well make it possible, for his side to take the next step and reach the final.
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