Rafique strike takes Chirag to Durand final

New Delhi: Chirag United rode on Mohammad Rafique’s late strike to break East Bengal’s 17-match winning streak and advance to the final of the 123rd Durand Cup football tournament at the Ambedkar Stadium here on Thursday.

After both teams failed to break the deadlock in the first half, Rafique scored the all-important goal in the 86th minute of the match, to help his team prevail over the depleted red-and-gold-brigade – who were missing four key players – and make their maiden final appearance in the world’s third oldest football tournament.

They will fight it out with JCT in the summit clash on Sunday.

Running in from the right towrads the East Bengal post, Rafique fired in a long-ranger that found the back of the net courtesy of a Uga Okpara deflection. The melee inside the box, perhaps, didnt help East Bengal as it left their custodian Sandeep Nandy unsighted.

Till Rafique broke the ice, it could have been anybody’s game with both teams in search of that elusive goal.

Nine minutes into the second half, Subhash Chakraborty, after capitalising on Ravinder Singh’s mistake, ran with the ball towards the East Bengal post but Nandy thwarted his attempt with a good save.

Chirag had a real chance to take the lead, when an unmarked Joshimar De Silva Martine charged towrads a hapless Nandy, but Ravinder Singh intercepted the ball before the wily striker could take a shot at the post.

East Bengal could have taken the lead three minutes before Rafique struck for Chirag, but Harmonjit Singh Khabra’s power-packed shot hit the crosspiece and an off-colour Robin Singh failed to find the back of the net off the rebound.

Much before that, Budhiram Tudu wasted a golden opportunity when he failed to make use of Khabra’s through ball. The inexperienced Tudu was found wanting on several occasions and Robin Singh’s unimpressive play only added to East Bengal’s miseries, who were without their prolific Australian recruit Tolgay Ozbey.

The absence of the injured Penn and Reisengmi Vashum, ruled out due to injuries, and Mehtab Hossain, suffering suspension after getting two yellow cards in the tournament, did not help East Bengal’s cause.

Both coaches, Chirag’s Subrata Bhattacharjee, and East Bengal’s Tervor Morgan accepted after the match that absence of these key players made the difference.

“That definitely helped as they are very important players. But our boys did well considering that East Bengal is a big team,” said Bhattacharjee said.

Morgan felt that the absence of the injured players disturbed the rhythm of the team.

“When you lose so many regular players, it disturbs the rhythm of the team. And we didn’t had players who could have replaced them,” Morgan said after the match.