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East Bengal overcomes a two-goal deficit to reach the Durand Cup final

NorthEast United are defeated on penalties after Nandha kumar’s stoppage-time goal sends the semi-final to penalties.

NorthEast United almost shocked themselves, and East Bengal certainly did. Overcoming a two-goal deficit to force the Indian Oil 132nd Durand Cup semi-final into penalties and winning 7 (2)-5 (2) was not the kind of story they had created in the previous three seasons.

Carles Cuadrat’s team hinted that this term would be different by defeating Mohun Bagan Super Giant early in the competition for the first time in over four years. Nandhakumar Sekar played an essential role in the confirmation on Tuesday.

East Bengal converted all of their shots in the tie-breaker, which took place immediately after regulation time, thanks to Celiton Silva, Saul Crespo, Borja Herrera, Mahesh Naorem, and Nandhakumar. Ibsen Pereira, Gani Nigam, and Pragyan Gogoi scored for NorthEast after his brother Parthib Gogoi blasted his re-taken shot into the horizontal after East Bengal goalie Prabhsukhan Gill stopped it.

NorthEast were a little more than a minute of stoppage time, eight of which came in the second half, away from their first Durand Cup final. That’s when Miguel Zabaco, who had scored with a glancing header in the 22nd minute, had to go up and foul Siverio for the team. It was his second booking of the evening, and the visiting squad was forced to finish the game with ten men.

Siverio headed across the goal from the free-kick, but NorthEast goalkeeper Mirshad saved it. With the clock indicating 90+7, Cleiton Silva kept the move alive with a chip that Nandhakumar, who scored the sole goal in the Kolkata derby on August 12, headed home.

East Bengal had managed to prolong the game in a way that rarely looked imaginable since their ISL debut in 2020-21, when Naorem’s shot took a deflection off defender Dinesh Singh and left Mirshad alone.

The East Bengal of previous seasons would have fallen when Phalguni Singh scored a solo goal in the 57th minute. Cuadrat’s men, on the other hand, never gave up trying. It took a lot of patience against opponents who were sitting deep after stunning East Bengal with their press early on. When Dinesh pulled off a superb header to deny Naorem, when Nandhakumar blasted over, or when he raised his shoulders and let fire against Mohun Bagan but was denied by Mirshad, his shoulders did not fall. It was the 87th minute, and in an attempt to retake control, Siverio exaggerated a fall in the intention of drawing a penalty. East Bengal assembled and went again because it was not delivered. This was a lesson in persistence for Thursday’s semi-finalists Mohun Bagan and FC Goa.

It was not a nice sight. East Bengal are far from that, with a slew of new players and a new coaching staff. Nandhakumar had had better games in his brief stay in a red-and-gold shirt, the quality of deliveries was poor, NorthEast had managed to keep the home team away from their goal for lengthy periods, and East Bengal had conceded because they had delayed closing down Phalguni.

East Bengal have grown in the Durand Cup, despite conceding two goals in the opener against a Bangladesh Army squad. Nandhakumar’s goal had shifted the momentum, despite the fact that it was merely the framework that made the difference. NorthEast couldn’t manage a game in which they had done well to go ahead once in each half, but they didn’t play like a team that had only five points in ISL9, the fewest in the competition’s history, or one that had been in the bottom two in three of the previous four seasons.

Phalguni was critical to the improvement in performance. Until Thursday evening, the 28-year-old has been a journeyman, rising through the Manipur state league and the I-League. That changed with a goal and an assist, the former coming from a fantastic left-footer after cutting in, and the latter from a right foot with just enough bend for Zabaco to glide ahead of East Bengal central defender Lalchungnunga.

NorthEast, like East Bengal, has appointed a new coach – Juan Pedro Benali is their 12th in the team’s 10 seasons – and overhauled the roster. It performed well enough in the first competition of the season to give it reason to be optimistic about the rest of the season.

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