The writing on the wall was simple and they did ultimately overcome the challenge posed by Real Kashmir in the second semi-final of the 2019 Durand Cup but not without drama.
If East Bengal had opened the scoring in the first half of their semi-final against Gokulam Kerala earlier in the day, so did Bagan. And, pretty much akin to East Bengal conceding in the third minute of injury time to add a further thirty minutes, Bagan were also dealt a similar blow.
However, the only contrast was super-sub VP Suhair scoring two to seal the deal for the Mariners, unlike East Bengal who had to endure defeat in the penalty shootouts. Even in that, fate struck when two former East Bengal players, both Kerala-born, turned out to be the heroes for their respective sides to set up a clash in the final, after Ubaid CK’s prodigious show with the gloves for Gokulam Kerala.
Joseba Beitia found a place in the Bagan XI after being rested for two consecutive matches and his class was for all to see. The Green and Maroons had significant control of proceedings till the time Beitia was on the pitch.
The game did come a full circle for skipper Gurjinder Kumar, only for the worse. After setting up Salvo Chamorro for the opener, it was his inability to intercept a cross which led to Gnohere Krizo head in the equalizer. However, the setback did not stop Mohun Bagan from conquering the extra thirty minutes.
With Ashutosh Mehta leading the team chat, it was the first time this season, Mohun Bagan looked prepared to stretch their legs even beyond regulation time. The Green and Maroons came leaps and bounds fitness-wise from their first game of the tournament, some twenty days ago when players started to cramp up an hour into the game.
Spanish coach Kibu Vicuna’s substitutions proved to be masterstrokes as Fran Gonzalez, brought on for Beitia, and then VP Suhair combined to make it 3-1. Both goals were pretty similar as Gonzalez threaded the ball for Suhair who ran in between defenders and finished off, first towards Phurba Lachenpa’s far post and then finally beating the goalie on his near post. Suhair became the first Indian to score for Bagan this season, not a bad time and moment to choose to do so.
While it will not be a Kolkata derby in the Durand Cup, only a game stands between Kibu Vicuna and silverware with Mohun Bagan in his very first tournament with his new club. With moral victory over East Bengal already achieved, expect more fireworks from Mohun Bagan fans if Vicuna delivers the Durand Cup for a record-breaking 17th time on Saturday.