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East Bengal march into semifinal phase

(PTI):The drive to succeed was writ large on East Bengal players’ faces as they scripted history of sorts after securing their maiden berth in the AFC Cup semifinals, overcoming the spirited Indonesian side Semen Padang, who were playing in front of a vociferous home crowd here on Tuesday.

The historic Indian club advanced on aggregate (2-1) after holding Semen Padang to a 1-1 draw in the the return leg quarterfinal at the Agus Salim Stadium.

Playing in front of a packed home crowd, the Indonesian outfit started out aggressively and led at half-time, thanks to a 23rd minute strike by Andrew Wilson.

But East Bengal, who needed just a draw to make the last four, made a smart move by bringing in Baljit Singh Sahni whose measured cross saw substitute James Moga time his jump to perfection as he headed home the equaliser in the 75th minute.

For Joaquim Abranches and Abhijit Mondal, the success is all the more sweeter as they were also part of the Dempo squad that had played in the semifinals of the second tier inter-continental club competition a few years ago. Dempo till now were the only Indian football club to have made the last four of this competition.

East Bengal had won the first-leg at home courtesy a Ryuji Sueoka strike. Having started the game, Sueoka could only last 43 minutes and it was the Japanese midfielder’s replacement, Moga, who struck the all-important goal.

Goan heavyweights Dempo had qualified for the AFC Cup semifinals in 2008.
East Bengal’s previous best show in the AFC Cup was in 2004 when Subhash Bhowmick guided the side to the quarterfinals.

Padang were boosted by the return of Argentine playmaker Esteban Gabriel Vizcarra, who was suspended for the first leg, while the Indonesian outfit’s backline too was reinforced with Wahyu Wijiastanto.

Needing at least a two goal margin to make the semis, Padang went into the attack straightaway as Wilson’s shot went over the bar.

An error by East Bengal goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh, who shot it straight to Wilson from a goalkick, was enough for the home outfit to take an easy lead. The Liberian forward, lurking upfront, made no mistake as he struck from 22 yards.

Immediately in the second half, the Indonesian outfit suffered their first setback when scorer Wilson picked up an injury to be replaced in the 48th minute. In the 65th minute, East Bengal brought in Baljit, in place of Robert Lalthlamuana, and it paid off. Baljit’s cross was met by Moga, whose header left the Pedang custodian stranded.

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