Odisha retains pole position with 2-1 win against East Bengal

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Princeton Rebello scored the winner for Odisha

In a replay of the 2024 Kalinga Super Cup final, 2023-24 Indian Super League table-toppers Odisha came back from a one-goal deficit to defeat East Bengal 2-1. Diego Mauricio and Princeton Rebello scored for the Kalinga Warriors, while PV Vishnu was the lone goal-scorer for the Torchbearers.

Odisha head coach Sergio Lobera made two changes to the team that drew 0-0 against Mohun Bagan Super Giant. Ahmed Jahouh returned to midfield duties after serving his suspension at the expense of Lenny Rodrigues. Meanwhile, to maintain the overseas count to four, Mourtada Fall had to make way for Narender Gahlot.

On the other hand, East Bengal head coach Carles Cuadrat made as many as five changes to his starting XI, despite defeating Chennaiyin 1-0 in the last fixture. Aleksandar Pantic, Mandar Rao Dessai, Ajay Chhetri, Vishnu, and VP Suhair replaced Hijazi Maher, Nishu Kumar, Souvik Chakrabarti, Naorem Mahesh Singh, and Nandhakumar Sekar respectively.

The game had an electrifying start as Vishnu scored what was the fastest goal of this season’s ISL and the fifth-fastest overall, taking just 32 seconds to find the back of the net. Pantic played a ball from the deep for the young winger, who first did well to beat his marker Jerry Lalrinzuala and then also evaded Carlos Delgado, before finally slotting the ball past a helpless Amrinder Singh under the Odisha goal.

Odisha had their first chance in the 3rd minute when after receiving a pass from Amey Ranawade on the right flank, Roy Krishna launched a cross for Mauricio. The Brazilian striker got his head to it, but could not get the desired connection.

The Flamengo academy graduate looked lively all throughout the match and had his second chance in the 14th minute. A long ball from Jahouh was headed out by Pantic, but the rebound fell for Mauricio who blasted his shot high.

Lobera’s team kept on peppering the East Bengal box with one attack after another and nearly found the equalizer in the 15th minute. Krishna darted down the right wing after linking up with Ranawade again before pulling the trigger, but Prabhsukhan Gill came up with a fine save for East Bengal.

The next big chance came in the 29th minute when Jahouh floated in a dangerous cross from a set-piece. Delgado did well to jump higher than his marker Suhair, but he could not guide his header on target.

Just two minutes later, it was Delgado’s centre-back partner, Gahlot’s turn to squander an opportunity. Jahouh came up with another brilliant delivery, this time from a corner, which was fisted away by Gill. However, the ball landed at the Moroccan’s feet again who delivered a pinpoint cross for the defender, who could only hit the side-netting with his header.

But Odisha did not have to wait too long to score the equalizer, which finally arrived in the 40th minute. After intercepting a mistimed pass from Mohamed Rakip, Rebello played a through ball for Mauricio who did well to go past Rakip, before being brought down by the East Bengal right-back inside the box. From the spot, Mauricio made no mistake in bringing the hosts back into the game.

Having restored parity, the Kalinga Warriors ended the half on a high. In the 42nd minute, Krishna found the back of the net when he converted from a Lalrinzuala pass, but the left-back was deemed to be in an offside position. Two minutes later, Jahouh kept his free-kick on target but Gill was up to the task once again.

East Bengal had a decent start to the second half. Substitute Chakrabarti tried his luck from distance in the 49th minute, while one minute later, Cleiton Silva tried a left-footed curler from a Victor Vazquez pass. However, both players failed to keep their attempts on target.

Ahmed Jahouh had an excellent game for the Kalinga Warriors

The missed opportunities turned out to be very costly as Odisha took the lead of the game in the 61st minute. Jahouh drilled in a low cross from a corner, and Rebello managed to expertly guide the ball through the legs of his marker Vazquez, and past the reach of Gill, to make it 2-1 to the hosts.

Despite having taken the lead, Odisha did not take their foot off the gas. In the 64th minute, Isak Vanlalruatfela struck a decent shot from the edge of the box, while Krishna tried his luck from distance two minutes later. But on both occasions, Gill was the saviour for East Bengal.

It took East Bengal a while to bounce back, but they did create a few chances in the last few minutes of the game. Nandhakumar had a shot in the 87th minute which struck an Odisha player.

A minute later, Felicio Brown Forbes headed down a ball from the deep for Nishu, who instead left it for Mahesh. The Manipuri winger did well to keep his shot on target, but Amrinder came up with an important save for the hosts. In additional time, both Nandhakumar and Nishu attempted the extraordinary but their attempts could not breach the Odisha defense.

With this win, Odisha remains at the top of the table with 35 points in 17 matches. They will now take on Chennaiyin on Sunday while East Bengal remains in 8th position with 18 points in 17 games and will be up against Goa on Wednesday.