Two goals inside the opening quarter of the hour by Mahmoud Al Amna (13') and Katsumi Yusa (16') gave East Bengal a 2-0 victory over the Indian Arrows at the Ambedkar Stadium in New Delhi in the first I-League encounter of 2018.
True to his word, Luis Norton de Matos made eight changes to the Arrows side which held Mohun Bagan to a 1-1 draw. Goalkeeper Prabhsukan Gill made his I-League debut as he replaced Dheeraj Singh who left the team. Only Anwar Ali, Jitendra Singh and Sanjeev Stalin retained their spots in the starting XI with Edmund Lalrindika leading the lineup at the top.
Khalid Jamil meanwhile made just two changes from the last match as Cavin Lobo came in for Lalramchullova while Joby Justin replaced the injured Willis Plaza to take his spot as the designated striker.
Jamil’s men made their intentions clear from the very first minute as they looked to impose their physicality on the young Arrows. It would not take them too long to take the lead after Abhishek Halder unnecessarily brought down Katsumi Yusa on the edge of the box. Mahmoud Al Amna stepped up to take the free-kick and curled it into the net with Gill making a hash of it at the near post.
Arrows’ misery was compounded just three minutes later when Yusa curled one into the top-right corner after a low cross from Al Amna which found the Japanese in acres of space inside the box.
Though the Arrows pressed high up the pitch, they failed to find the control in midfield in the absence of skipper Amarjit Singh Kiyam and Jeakson Singh. Matos’ boys were easily outmuscled in the middle of the park and failed to find any attacking momentum throughout the first half.
Stalin went down under a push by Prakash Sarkar in the East Bengal box towards the end of the half but the referee waved play on as the visitors took a two-goal advantage into the interval.
Halder was taken off after the break as Suresh Singh Wangjam came in to replace him in midfield for the Arrows. The youngsters came out firing in the second period and Edmund made a driving run into the East Bengal box in the 49th minute which resulted in Aniket Jadhav getting a sight at goal but his left-footer could only disturb the side netting.
Abhijit Sarkar had a chance to reduce the arrears in the 57th minute when a Stalin corner was flicked-on to the striker by Anwar Ali but the No.9 could not beat Luis Barreto from a yard out and the chance went begging. It was the Red and Golds who could have gone three goals up near the hour mark when Yusa found Joby unmarked with a lovely cross but the forward's well-directed header was saved brilliantly by Gill.
Matos threw on Nongdamba Naorem and Rahul Kannooly in place of Ninthoinganba Meetei and Aniket Jadhav as he looked to change things up. However, clear-cut chances were hard to come by for the Arrows with a Stalin free-kick the closest they came to scoring. At the other end, East Bengal could have added more to their tally but Yusa shot straight at Gill when he had much better options available inside the box.
Al Amna, who pulled the strings for the visitors, was taken off in the dying minutes as East Bengal looked to close the game out. The Arrows huffed and puffed but could not find the cutting edge to reduce the deficit as East Bengal held on to a 2-0 victory.