Kolkata: Indian Super League (ISL) sides, East Bengal FC and NorthEast United FC played out one of the most dramatic matches in the history of the Durand Cup on Tuesday night, where the former prevailed with a 5-3 scoreline on penalties to reach the final of 132nd Durand Cup after a thrilling 2-2 draw at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan here.
The Highlanders raced to a two-goal lead through Michel Zabaco and Phalguni Singh, but late strikes from Naorem Mahesh Singh and Nandhakumar Sekar allowed the Red and Gold team to equalise in a spectacular manner.
Nandhakumar, the Derby Hero of East Bengal FC, managed to score in the final minute of stoppage time, pushing the match into a penalty shootout. During the shootout, Parthib Gogoi couldn’t convert his spot kick, while East Bengal FC successfully netted all of theirs, securing their spot in the final.
“Football is a game of narrow margins. When we made it 2-1, we changed the system to a 3-5-2 to apply more pressure. We got the last free-kick and we equalised. I have mentioned earlier that we want to be a team difficult to beat. We have played five games till now – three narrow-margin wins and two draws,” East Bengal FC head coach, Carles Cuadrat said in the post-match press conference.
The Spaniard lauded the team’s unwavering “never-say-die” attitude, as the Red and Gold Brigade orchestrated an epic comeback to secure their spot in the 27th Durand Cup final.
“This was the first time we were trailing. But we showed that we have that ‘never-say-die’ attitude. I am happy to see the change in the dynamic. We have started to believe in ourselves. Nothing is done. Both the Durand Cup final and the ISL will be complicated. But I can see in the players the belief that they can turn things around. That was the real turning point,” the head coach added.
Cuadrat made a couple of changes to the lineup from the quarter-finals as he gave Juan Pardo his first start, while Mandar Rao Dessai replaced Souvik Chakrabarti, adding fresh legs to the team.
However, they reverted to their former line-up during the half-time break, with Borja Herrera reassuming the creative role. East Bengal FC introduced a couple more attacking changes, a strategic move that ultimately paid dividends for the team.
“In these types of games, when you bring back a goal, it boosts the confidence. After we went 2-0 down, we tried something new – the combination of Cleiton Silva and Javier Siverio. Cleiton isn’t
fully fit. But we took that risk. We finally got the equaliser,” stated Cuadrat.
East Bengal FC will now await the winner of the second semi-final between FC Goa and Mohun Bagan Super Giant, on Thursday, to determine whom they will face in the final on Sunday.
“I am happy for the club as they reached the final after 19 years. So now it’s just one final and again after a long time East Bengal is in the final and I am happy about it. Now, We have to rest a bit and prepare for the final,” he commented.