The 2023 Durand Cup kicked off at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan with the opening match between Mohun Bagan and Bangladesh Army Football Team. The rather one-sided game saw a dominant display from the Kolkata giants as they secured a convincing 5-0 victory over their Group A rivals.
Bastab Roy, the coach of Mohun Bagan during the Calcutta Football League, also took charge of the team in the Durand Cup. Mohun Bagan opted to field only a handful of their regular first-team players, giving some valuable playing time to their reserve team at the top level. Manvir Singh, Liston Colaco, Lalrinliana Hnamte, and Sumit Rathi where some of the names from the senior team who also featured against BAFT. Bangladesh Army FT, on the other hand, were coached by Abdur Razzak and consisted of as many as eight players on loan from Dhaka Mohammedan Sporting Club who where winners of the local Federation Cup there this year.
The match started on a pitch that showed signs of wear and tear, and around the 10th minute, BAFT’s inability to contain Liston Colaco was evident as the latter suffered a bad tackle from one of the Bangladeshi players that could have resulted in an expulsion. However, Manvir Singh’s resulting shot from the free-kick was met with an excellent save by BAFT’s goalkeeper, Ashraful Islam Rana.
The deadlock was broken very soon in the 14th minute when Mohun Bagan orchestrated a brilliant team goal. Suhail Bhatt received the ball deep inside and played it wide to Taison Singh who delivered a pinpoint pass to right back Rana, who skillfully dribbled past a couple of BAFT defenders and sent in a dangerous cross hugging the goalkeeper. The ball found its way to Liston Colaco, who managed to slot it home after a brief struggle with the ball at his feet.
Despite Bagan’s early lead, they faced some nervy moments in defense. However, they continued to remain dangerous on the resulting counter-attacks. Suhail Bhatt and Manvir Singh especially combined well in the attacking third, which resulted in Bhatt unleashing a right-footed shot from a very tight angle that unfortunately hit the crossbar and was later ruled offside by the referee.
The turnout at the stadium was somewhat disappointing, despite free tickets being distributed. Nevertheless, the Bagan faithful were out in force, representing multiple fan clubs, adorning the stands with their flags and posters, and singing and chanting throughout the match. Close to the half-hour mark, Bagan earned a penalty when Lalrinliana Hnamte was fouled just inside the box by Minajur Abdein Rakib, who caught his foot instead of the ball. Manvir Singh stepped up and calmly slotted the ball past Ashraful to extend Bagan’s lead to 2-0.
As the first half neared its end, Liston Colaco continued to showcase his brilliance. He pulled off a deft skill move, evading a BAFT defender with ease before delivering a splendid pass over the backline for Suhail Bhatt. The young striker, who has impressed a lot for the Bagan reserves, executed a perfect lob with his right foot to make it 3-0 for Mohun Bagan in the 39th minute.The woes for BAFT worsened when Mijanur Rahman received a second yellow card for pushing Liston while he was dribbling across the pitch, leaving BAFT with ten men going into the second half.
The second-half kicked off in the same fashion as the earlier one with Bagan continuing to assert their dominance. Liston and Manvir once again combined brilliantly from a set-piece, with Liston’s low free-kick finding Manvir at the near post. Manvir skillfully backheeled the ball into the path of Lalrinliana Hnamte, who made no mistake in slotting it home to extend Bagan’s lead to 4-0 in the 54th minute. However the moment of ecstasy was followed by a tense moment as Suhail Bhatt, who was electric in the first half, unfortunately had to be stretchered off due to an injury. He was substituted by Engson. Earlier, Manvir also made way for Kiyan.
Liston Colaco, however, continued to be unstoppable, forcing BAFT players to resort to fouls in their attempts to halt his progress. Despite playing against 10 men, Bagan appeared to have lost some attacking sharpness after the substitutions of Manvir and Suhail. BAFT came closest to scoring in the second half when a cross found Arsh off-guard at the far post. However, Ravi Rana’s timely diving tackle prevented Bagan from conceding an unfortunate goal.
Bagan had another goal in store as Liston concluded his brilliant individual performance with a powerful shot at goalkeeper Ashraful. Although the shot was saved, the resulting rebound reached an advancing Kiyan Nassiri, who comfortably slotted it into the net. With this goal, Bagan completed a resounding 5-0 victory over Bangladesh Army FT, who appeared lackluster on all fronts at the VYBK. Hnamte came close to adding a sixth goal in extra time, but his brilliant shot hit the crossbar, denying him a deserved goal.
Mohun Bagan’s opening performance in the Durand Cup was plenty impressive. However, Bastab Roy’s team must remain cautious, recognizing that today’s performance was against a significantly weaker Bangladesh team compared to both Bagan and other Group A opponents. The real test for Bagan lies in their upcoming matches against Punjab FC and East Bengal, which will determine their qualification for the next stage. The convincing win against Bangladesh Army FT has undoubtedly set a positive tone for their Durand Cup campaign, and the Bagan fans who cheered their hearts out for the team today will eagerly looking forward to see how the Kolkata giants perform in the remainder of the tournament.
Follow IFTWC for the latest updates on Indian Football.