East Bengal pip Semen Padang, eye semis berth in AFC Cup
Kolkata: East Bengal rode on substitute Ryuji Sueoka`s second-half strike to scrape past Semen Padang of Indonesia 1-0 in their home-leg of AFC Cup quarterfinals at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan here on Tuesday.
Sueoka, who replaced Reisangmei Vashum in the 55th minute, brought the 40,000-odd crowd on their feet with a 71st minute strike as his curling shot from the edge of the box found the Semen Padang net.
Eyeing their maiden semifinal berth, East Bengal will face the Indonesian outfit in the return-leg of the quarterfinals at the Agus Salim Stadium in Padang on September 24.
Goan heavyweights Dempo FC are the only Indian side to have made the AFC Cup semifinals in the 2004-05 season.
The win must have brought relief to their newly-appointed Brazilian coach Marcos Falopa who was under pressure after taking over the reins from a hugely successful Trevor James Morgan.
The red-and-gold brigade did not have a convincing start as they relied on long balls. To make matters worse, Sudanese recruit James Moga did not look fully fit. The visitors dominated the first half which failed to yield any goal.
In fact, things could have been different had Padang not missed two easy sitters early into the match.
East Bengal survived an early scare and full credit should be given to goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh who stood tall under the bar, thwarting two back-to-back attempts from the Indonesian outfit.
Gurpreet first denied Wilson who made a fine inroad from the left flank and Muhammad Nur Iskandar took a powerful shot from the melee but the lanky goalkeeper once again made a brilliant save in the seventh minute.
Minutes later, East Bengal camp once again panicked but came out lucky with the Padang outfit wasting a sitter. Yu Hyunkoo tested Gurpreet with a shot that dipped a lot and the rebound fell in front of Ronaldo Moro whose angled header in front of the goal was wayward.
Having escaped the initial Padang onslaught, East Bengal had their first chance in the 22nd minute when Chidi Edeh set up Vashum who had the full view of the net but to the horror of the home side fans, the latter failed to get hold of the ball.
In the dying minutes of the first-half, East Bengal had an outside chance with the Padang goalkeeper Jandia Eka Putra fumbling but the defence cleared the ball before an off-colour Moga could take the possession.
Moga was equally lacklustre in the second half and the former Pune FC forward looked not fully fit as he wasted an opportunity in the 56th minute.
But the all-important move came in the 55th minute when Sueoka replaced Vashum and the spectators cheered loudly anticipating a positive vibe.
The Japanese did not disappoint as his powerful curling shot was enough to give East Bengal three points and hope for making it to the last four.