East Bengal went down to Yemeni side Al Orouba by a solitary goal scored in the 47th minute by their Nigerian centre-back, Fatai Adisa Alao from the penalty spot, after Gurwinder Singh had impeded Hamood Sharyan in the 6 yard box while trying to head the ball to safety.
East Bengal had gone into the match on the back of an unconvincing 2-1 win against local side Bhowanipore in the IFA Shield. Trevor Morgan's side thus looked to put up a far better performance in the AFC Cup .
They were missing the services of defenders Raju Gaikwad and Nirmal Chhetri as well as Reishmangi Vashum in midfield as these players were away on Challenge Cup duty for India. Gurwinder Singh, Harmanjot Khabra and Edmilson slotted in for them. With midfield enforcer Mehtab Hussein injured, Sushant Matthew filled the void in the centre of midfield.
East Bengal interestingly lined up in a 4-3-3 formation with Edmilson, Robin Singh and Tolgay making up the front three for the Red and Gold Brigade.
Meanwhile Al Orouba played three foreigners in their squad, the Egyptian Shaban Mustafa upfront and also Nigerian Adisa Alao in central defense with Paul Duke providing the creativity in midfield. Veteran 40 year old captain Mohammed Abdulkhaleq was the custodian and led the team ably from the back.
The first half began slowly with both teams testing each other. However slowly but surely, The Red and Gold central midfield began to dominate with Penn Orji enjoying a lot of the ball and Matthew cancelling out any opposition forays.
Trevor Morgan's side not only enjoyed much of the ball in the opening exchanges but created the majority of the chances. Sanju Pradhan and Penn Orji were the first players to test the Yemeni goalkeeper. Sharyan too had a chance on the break for the Red Fury, but his weak effort at goal was comfortably saved by Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
The first real chance came for the home side in the 28th minute from a harmless long ball from Tolgay Ozbey who had seen Edmilson making a forward run. For the first time Edmilson beat the goalie who misjudged the flight of the ball, but it was Adisa Alao who prevented his weak shot from sneaking into the empty net. Before this, there were chances at either end as on one side Khabra's defensive header to Gurpreet almost fell onto the path of the incoming Mustafa and on the other side Sanju and Penn played a brilliant one two just outside the away box only for Penn to scuff the final shot.
In the 33rd minute, the energetic Tolgay was again in the centre of things as he strode down the right not once but twice, but on both occasions his final cross into the box failed to find either of Robin or Edmilson as the visitor's custodian easily parried out the cross to safety.
It was all East Bengal in the remaining part of the half though the chances were mostly half chances to Edmilson and Penn who were wasteful in front of goal.
The Yemeni side did make them pay for their profligacy in front of goal with the classic sucker punch before the half ended as in the 47th minute Gurpreet failed to clear an innocuous long ball into the box and made a mess of it. In the ensuing challenge for the loose ball Gurwinder went up with Sharyar and was adjudged as having elbowed the Yemeni striker and the referee had no hesitation in awarding the penalty.
The Red Fury's Nigerian defender Adisa Alao who was already doing a splendid job to thwart each and every attack from the home side, stepped up confidently and scored a crucial away goal from the spot. Although Gurpreet guessed the side right, it was expertly placed beyond him towards the left corner of the goal.
It seemed Trevor Morgan's half time talk had worked wonders as just after the break Edmilson almost equalised from a freekick outside the box, as Tolgay was fouled. The Brazilian's fierce shot hit the left post and almost trickled in, but the veteran Yemeni goalie claimed to keep atleast some part of the ball outside the goal-line and amidst furious protests from the home team, the referee waved goal kick.
Amidst numerous Red and Gold forays it was the rock solid Nigerian Adisa Alao who kept the away team still in the game, as he seemed to be everywhere to help out his team in defense. A clutch of chances fell to the home team in the 70th minute, the first two to Robin Singh. First he failed to head Edmilson's measured cross from the left and second with lots of space in the box on the right, he shot straight to the goalie.
Just a minute later, the referee was again in the forefront as he waved play on as Tolgay was impeded in the box.
As the match entered the final quarter, the I-league runners up looked even more desperate as they pressed on in search of that elusive equaliser. Penn had two chances back to back, first as he himself dribbled his way through the heart of the Yemeni defense but failed to release the ball at the last moment and then when he went past two defenders on the right, but his floated ball could find no one even though there were four of his team mates in the box.
It seemed as if their wasted chances would come back to haunt them again, just like in the first half as with the four minutes of added time about to run out, Sharyan was almost on the verge of doubling their advantage.
However he failed to add to the tally but eventually it made no difference as the visitors took home all three points, holding on to their slender one goal advantage.
With Arbil and Kazma, the other two sides in Group B, being far stronger than the newly found club from Yemen, coach Trevor James Morgan will look at this as letting a golden opportunity slip by, as in spite of being the superior side , the Red and Gold end up on the wrong side of the result.