Kolkata: Defending champions East Bengal showed amazing resilience as they came back from behind to defeat arch-rivals Mohun Bagan in the penalty shoot-out to storm into the 117th IFA Shield final, here Sunday. Locked 1-1 after the extra time, East Bengal thwarted Odafa Okolie's attempt with a brilliant work by Gurpreet Singh before winning the penalty shoot-out 4-2 to set up the summit clash against United SC.
East Bengal will take on United SC on Wednesday in pursuit of their record 25 Shield titles. The Trevor Morgan-coached side, who lead the table in the I-League as well as local league (CFL Premier Division) and are having a positive run in the AFC Cup, also took their unbeaten streak to 14 matches. The third derby of the season, which was held under newly-installed floodlights at the YBK for the first time in 16 months, was full of drama, giving the 70,000-odd crowd full worth.
Mohun Bagan went up with a C S Sabeeth (46th) goal after a goalless first-half but in a stunning turnaround, East Bengal's Aussie recruit Andrew Barisic took the match into extra time with a brilliant 88th minute strike. The extra time failed to yield results as the match went into the ensuing tie-breaker. Having snatched the vital equaliser through Barisic, East Bengal were full of confidence to win 4-2 in the shootout as Mohun Bagan wilted under pressure.
Edeh Chidi started the proceedings for East Bengal in the shoot-out while goalkeeper Gurpreet became Mohun Bagan's nemesis denying Odafa's penalty with a fine save. Barisic continued his fine run converting his attempt, while misery compounded for Mohun Bagan as Nirmal Chhetri missed the net as East Bengal took a 2-0 lead in the shootout.
In the next set of shots, Mohun Bagan opened the account through Jewel Raja but East Bengal were on a roll with captain Sanju Pradhan making it 3-1.
There was more drama in store when Naoba Singh missed the fourth attempt, while Mohun Bagan's Aibor Khongjee converted with a cool demeanour. Mohun Bagan's fate rested on goalkeeper Shilton Paul but Baldeep Singh had other idea as he fired in the winning goal to take East Bengal to their second successive Shield final. Having carved the hard-fought win, the red-and-gold brigade would surely lament their lost chances in the first 45 minutes as they came very close to scoring at least two occasions but only to see a goalless stalemate at the rain-soaked YBK.
East Bengal came close to scoring early into the first-half when Chidi got the ball with Shilton missing the flight but luck it seemed aided Mohun Bagan who escaped from an early goal. The defending champions dominated the proceedings thereafter as they ensured that the Mohun Bagan forward duo of Odafa and Sabeeth struggle for possession. East Bengal kept attacking with Chidi up front but Mohun Bagan held the nerves with another Nigerian -- Echezona Anyichie -- who did well to thwart their attempts.
Chidi had another easy opportunity in the 37th minute when he found himself in a one-on-one but the Nigerian could not take the shot in what could be the costliest miss for the last year's winners. There were mispasses in aplenty in the Bagan camp as Odafa was marked well by the East Bengal defence led by Uga Okpara as the first half did not yield much in the high-voltage clash. In a surprising change of fortunes, Mohun Bagan returned a transformed unit after the changeover when they caught East Bengal unawares with an Odafa-Sabeeth combination.
Trapped inside an East Bengal defence, Odafa set it up for Sabeeth connecting a centre from Nirmal Chhetri for the first decisive move of the match. Having found the possession in front of the goal, Sabeeth did not make any mistake as he converted from a right-footer to give Mohun Bagan a surprise 1-0 lead just after the break.
But there was more to the match in store as East Bengal's Australian recruit Barisic struck a fine goal just before the regulation time to take the match into the extra time. There was no end to the deadlock as both the teams' matched equally to see the 1-1 deadlock prevailing for 110 minutes. East Bengal maintained their supremacy with a confident approach in the shoot-out as they struck 4-2 to storm into the final.