Nandhakumar does star turn as East Bengal enter Durand Cup final after nearly two decades

Kolkata, Aug 29 (PTI) Nandhakumar Sekar turned out to be East Bengal’s darling once again as the red-and-gold defeated NorthEast United FC 5-3 in penalty shootout in a dramatic turnaround to make the Durand Cup final after 19 years.

With one minute left on the clock, it was Nandhakumar’s header (90+7th) that helped East Bengal make a dramatic turnaround as they came back from being 0-2 down to make it 2-2 and force a penalty shoot-out.

Nandhakumar then sealed the issue in the penalty shoot-out after Cleiton Silva, Saul Crespo, Borja Herrera and Naorem Mahesh converted their chances.

Brazilian Ibson De Melo, Gani Ahmmed Nigam and Pragyan Gogoi scored for the Highlanders and it was their third attempt that proved decisive.

First it was Parthiv Gogoi’s shot saved by Prabhsukhan Siingh Gill and had to retaken, and this time the crosspiece came to East Bengal’s rescue.

This was 16-time champions East Bengal’s first Durand Cup final appearance since 2004.

Another derby is not ruled out in the final as East Bengal await the winners of Mohun Bagan and FC Goa, slated to play the second Durand Cup semifinal on Thursday.

The Highlanders, who also enjoyed a better record against East Bengal in their six exchanges in the Indian Super League, dominated the proceedings for more than one-hour where they raced to 2-0 lead.

The Carles Cuadrat-coached side looked listless and a shadow of their stunning derby win over Mohun Bagan. The glimmer of hope came in the 77th minute.

A brilliant run into the box by Saul Crespo set up Naorem Mahesh Singh on the edge of the box as his shot on the target was guided into his own goal by Soraisham Dinesh Singh of NorthEast United FC.

The 27-year-old Tamil Nadu lad, whose goal in the Kolkata derby 17 years ago had ended their eight-match losing streak against Mohun Bagan, was once again in the thick of things in the fag-end of the match.

Having missed two back-to-back chances around the 90th minute, Nandhakumar made amends in the eight minutes of second-half injury time.

In front of a 20,000-plus partisan crowd, little known Manipuri lad Konsam Phalguni Singh was the unexpected hero for NorthEast United FC, who raced to a 2-0 lead over home favourites East Bengal against the run of play inside the one-hour mark.

An inch-perfect right footed cross in the first half first created the opener for Miguel Zabaco in the 22nd minute.

The 28-year-old, who is set for an Indian Super League debut this season, returned to give him a commanding 2-0 lead with a superb left-footed finish to the far post after cutting in from the right.

Despite East Bengal having more shots on target and greater possession, NorthEast United FC skilfully thwarted clear-cut goal-scoring opportunities for their opponents.

East Bengal’s best opportunity in the first half arrived in the 39th minute when Mandar crossed a long ball from the left wing. However, Javier Siverio’s headed attempt was too high to find the net.

This encounter marked the sixth time these teams have faced each other with East Bengal having secured just one victory.

NorthEast United FC enjoyed dominance over East Bengal, winning three matches against them, while sharing points twice. Before this, East Bengal had won one match over the NE rivals.

Source: PTI News


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