A 10-man Mohun Bagan Super Giant (MBSG), reversed their group-stage result over arch-city-rivals Emami East Bengal (EEB), defeating them 1-0 in the final of the 132nd Durand Cup, to be crowned champions on Sunday, 3rd September in Kolkata. Forward Dimitri Petratos struck the winner in the 71st minute after Anirudh Thapa was sent off for a second bookable offence, early in the second half.
There was nothing much to choose between the two sides save the Petratos strike, in an entertaining final at the hallowed Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan, which had close to 60,000 fans watching.
Ashique won the game’s first corner for MBSG within the first five minutes, however not much came off it. A similar fate awaited EEB when they got theirs a few minutes later. There was nothing much to choose between the two in the first quarter of an hour. Left was the preferred attacking flank for both teams, with Ashique of Mohun Bagan and Mahesh of East Bengal being the prime movers of attacks.
Then just after the water break, Jordan Elsey seemed to have twisted his ankle and Cuadrat had to replace him with Jose Antonio Pardo at the back. With just a couple of minutes to go, the half’s two best chances fell to both teams. First when a cross by Borja meant for Siverio’s head fell for Nandha, but the winger failed to keep his shot on target. Then Dimitri Petratos unleashed a brilliant strike from the top of the East Bengal penalty box, but also just missed his target as it went over the crossbar.
The half ended equal, not only in terms of no team scoring a goal but also in terms of both getting an equal number of bookings, with Saul Crespo and Borja for the Red and Golds, and Hugo Boumos and Thapa for the Green and Maroons going into the referee’s book in the final stages. Cuadrat made his second change in the 57th minute of the game when he brought on the experienced and tricky player Brazilian Cleiton Silva in place of Borja. Ferrando responded with Manvir Singh in place of Ashish Rai.
The Punjabi winger created an immediate chance on the hour-mark for Boumous, but the Frenchman shot wide from close. Another critical moment of the match then happened when Anirudh Thapa was sent off for a high boot on Saul Crespo, his second bookable offense of the match. In the 69th minute of the game, Ferrando made a triple change, bringing on Australian World Cupper Jason Cummings, Liston Colaco, and Glan Martins in place of Hugo Boumous, Armando Sadiku and Ashique Kuruniyan.
It brought them luck in around the 71st minute when Dimitri Petratos, Mohun Bagan’s Greek forward, received the box in transition, just inside the East Bengal half, and kept advancing towards their goal without much challenge from the right-hand side. He then unleashed a left-footed diagonal along the ground from just outside the box. It was perfectly placed as the ball took an unexpected bounce and eluded the outstretched palm of the East Bengal FC goalkeeper Prabhsukan Singh Gill and went in.
The deadlock was broken and the MBSG fans went into a frenzy, as Petratos rushed towards a section of them to celebrate. In the 78th minute, Cuadrat effected a triple-change himself, bringing on Nishu Kumar, VP Suhair, and Edwin Vanspaul, in place of Chungnunga, Siverio, and Rakip. Then in the 87th, Juan Ferrando made his final move, consolidating his defense by bringing on Brendan Hamill in place of Sahal Abdul Samad. 9 minutes of additional time was allotted but it wasn’t enough for East Bengal.
Try as they might, the Red and Golds could not break the Mohun Bagan defense despite giving their all, and Mohun Bagan were crowned worthy champions. Bagan only suffered in the reverse fixture of the tournament’s group stages. But, this time they beat East Bengal to get sweet revenge over their arch-rivals in the final. Bagan had beaten such top teams as Mumbai City FC and FC Goa en route.
Mohun Bagan SG goalkeeper Vishal Kaith won the Golden Gloves Award, while East Bengal FC forward Nandha Kumar Sekar won the Golden Ball award, and Mohammedan SC forward Daniel Lalhelmsanga was awarded the Golden Boot award. With this, the 2023 Durand Cup edition came to a close. It can be termed a successful competition as we saw so many youngsters and Indian players coming to the spotlight and also giving them many competitive minutes under their belt throughout the tournament.
Matches being held across the states saw fans experience the teams that they generally don’t get to witness with top footballers and coaches in action in their backyards right in front of their eyes. There were more teams in this edition and it was followed with an added excitement among the supporters. The focus turns to the ISL now, but we all can’t wait for the next edition of the Durand Cup in 2024.
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