The first quarterfinal of the 132nd IndianOil Durand Cup saw NorthEast United prevail over Indian Army FT in a cagey affair at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati. The two teams were only separated by a 51st minute close-range finish by Konsam Phalguni Singh with the Highlanders taking away a 1-0 win to secure their places in the semifinals of the Durand Cup. The match was expected to be highly competitive as both teams entered the quarterfinals unbeaten in the group stages and it lived up to the expectations.
The stadium was charged with anticipation as the referee’s whistle initiated the match, and the NorthEast United supporters donned their distinctive white jerseys and rallied behind their team.
The game began cautiously as both teams tried to create opportunities with accurate crosses. However, NorthEast United’s passes weren’t always on target, making it easy for the Army’s goalkeeper, Bhabindra, to catch the ball. The pace of the game gradually picked up, with the Highlander’s left-back Tondonba confidently pushing into the opponent’s side around the 18th minute, hinting at a change in momentum.
A battle for control unfolded in the middle of the field around the 28th minute, as both NorthEast United and the Indian Army aimed to take charge. The game’s flow centered on possession, with both teams working to dictate the rhythm. The Highlander’s efforts to breach the Army’s defense paid off around the 32nd minute when a well-coordinated move resulted in a strong push into the opposition’s territory.
As the match continued, the Indian Army had moments of potential, like Shafeel’s powerful shot around the 40th minute. However, they struggled to score, and the scoreboard remained unchanged.
The second half started with more intensity around the 50th minute, as both sides fought for control. The tie was finally broken in the 51st minute when NorthEast United’s Nestor, who came on in the second half, delivered a precise cross-field pass. Manvir Singh’s well-timed header found Phalguni, who skillfully converted the opportunity, setting off celebrations among the Highlanders’ devoted fans.
With their lead secured, NorthEast United worked hard to maintain their advantage. The Indian Army’s inability to capitalize on their chances allowed NEUFC to stick to their game plan. A crucial moment came in the 80th minute, when NEUFC’s goalkeeper, Mirshad, made a fantastic save despite momentarily losing his balance.
As the match approached its end, the Indian Army pushed forward in the 84th minute, hoping to equalize. But NorthEast United’s solid defense, supported by a strong midfield, thwarted their efforts. In the 88th minute, NEUFC’s Jithin MS made a brave attempt to break through the Army’s defense but faced determined opposition.
When the final whistle blew, NorthEast United emerged as the winner, earning a coveted spot in the Durand Cup 2023 semifinals. Their successful execution of a set-piece opportunity in the 51st minute showcased their tactical prowess. This victory highlighted NEUFC’s ability to balance strong defense with calculated attacks in the 60th minute, confirming their well-deserved progress in the tournament.
Despite a goalless first half, the Indian Army demonstrated commendable passion in their pursuit to level the score. Still, their valiant efforts fell short, leaving them unable to secure the much-anticipated equalizer. The Indian Army’s coach rang in numerous substitutions in a bid to tip the scales, but alas, these changes failed to yield the desired outcome.
On the flip side, NorthEast United’s dominance was undeniable throughout the entire second half. The likes of Manvir Singh, Romain, Rochharzela, and Ibson relentlessly crafted one scoring opportunity after another, exposing the vulnerabilities of the Indian Army’s defense time and again. Their consistent efforts saw them breach the opposition’s defense with remarkable frequency.
While the Indian Army showcased fervent determination, it was NorthEast United’s resolute performance in the second half that ultimately secured their triumph and etched their name among the top contenders in this prestigious tournament. NEUFC will face the winner of the quarterfinal clash between Emami East Bengal and Gokulam Kerala for a spot in the final of the Durand Cup.
Follow IFTWC for the latest updates on Indian Football