East Bengal defeats Gokulam Kerala to book a Durand Cup semi-final spot

The East Bengal Brigade is thriving on an unbeaten run!

East Bengal has advanced to the semi-final stages of the 2023 Durand Cup by defeating I-League outfit Gokulam Kerala 2-1 in the second quarter-final clash. 

A rainy evening at Kolkata’s Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan witnessed the Bengal Brigade scoring a momentous 39-second goal. The Malabarians staged a second-half comeback with the header of Aminou Bouba but an own goal from the same player made their way towards elimination from the prestigious cup competition. 

The intense action commenced with the opening kick taken by East Bengal in away all-white outfits against the Gokulam Kerala side donning traditional maroon colors.

East Bengal gaffer Carles Cuadrat named an unchanged lineup for this clash hoping to carry forward the winning momentum of the group stages. Meanwhile, the doors to the starting XI remained closed for the likes of Cleiton Silva, Mandar Rao Dessai, and Mobashir Rahman who were once again left out on the substitute bench.

On the other hand, the Malabarian team management came up with a whopping number of seven changes from their previous fixture lineup. The Mizo wall Zothanmawia returned to guard the Gokulam goal against the eastern predators while the captain’s armband was handed over to Alex Sanchez by the youngster Noufal PN. 

The Aussie defender took less than a minute to score his debut goal for the Torchbearers

Cuadrat’s key tactic of possessing an aggressive approach right from the kick-off paid off handsomely for the Kolkata-based club as they broke the deadlock in the very first minute of the play. It was the Australian central defender Jordan Elsey whose headed goal with the assistance of Naorem Mahesh Singh opened the scoreline and earned an early 1-0 lead for his club.

Despite taking a commanding position in the game quite early in the clock, the Torchbearers continued their efforts with aggression in search of another breakthrough and kept the goal-scoring threat on. On the other hand, the Malabarian side seemed devastated during the defensive transitions of the initial attacks while their offensive department also struggled to orchestrate successful attacking moves.

The Red and Gold Brigade was successfully barging into the opposition half with positive moves on numerous occasions and one of these moves also brought them very close to doubling the lead. The Spanish midfielder Saul Crespo’s long-ranging strike from the edge of the box in the 32nd minute could not find the net and met with the far post instead. 

Gokulam missed out on a golden opportunity to equalize the scoreline in the final minutes of the first half when the skipper Alex Sanchez’s attempt was turned down by an incredible save from Prabhsukhran Gill. It turned out to be the first and only instance when the Kozhikode-based outfit came close to moving the scoreline as the play then headed into a half-time break on 1-0 favoring the Torchbearers.

When the quarter-final saga resumed after half-time, East Bengal carried on with their diligent efforts to pressurize the opposition defense in order to find another breakthrough. The assailant Manipuri winger Naorem Mahesh came close to finding the back of the net twice in the first five minutes but couldn’t execute it on both occasions. 

After relentless efforts in search of the equalizing goal, the two-time I-League champions finally managed to overcome the impasse in the 57th minute. It was the homegrown midfielder Abhijith K who initiated the move from the left wing with a great cross which was headed inside by the Cameroonian defender Aminou Bouba. 

Carles Cuadrat suddenly opted for an all-out attacking approach seeking the lead and his boys went on to fulfill their gaffer’s wish in the 78th minute to get back onto the driving seat. The hero of Gokulam’s opening goal, Aminou Bouba quickly became the antagonist as it was his last touch to a marvellous cross of Nishu Kumar which resulted in EB’s second goal of the night.

Six minutes of injury time was added into play after the completion of the regulation period but the I-League side failed to stage a turnaround and East Bengal prevailed on the final scoreline of 2-1. 

It marks the end of the Durand Cup journey for the Northern Kerala club which conquered the same tournament in the year 2019. Gokulam Kerala left no stone unturned to put up a strong contention for the semifinal ticket but difficult rainy conditions and an own goal eventually knocked them out of the competition. 

The Torchbearers have qualified for the penultimate round of the Durand Cup after four years and will be focusing on ending their title drought of 19 years. They will be summoned by the ISL counterparts NorthEast United in the first semi-final encounter at the same venue on Tuesday.