Kolkata, Oct 22 (IANS) Local football giants East Bengal paid heavily for defensive flip flops as holders Alkuwait Sports Club rode on a 3-0 victory into the AFC Cup final here Tuesday. Both teams finished the return leg semi final with 10 men after a player each was given marching orders.
A step away from creating Indian football history, the red and gold brigade began the return leg semi final enterprisingly but were done in by two minutes of lacklustre display during an eventful last few minutes of the first half, much to the dismay of over 60,000 vociferous spectators at the Salt Lake stadium here.
While the remarkable Brazilian Rogério Coutinho drew first blood in the 42nd minute, Abdulhadi Khamis doubled the lead two minutes later as East Bengal saw their hopes of overhauling a 2-4 scoreline in the first leg (played Sep 30 in Kuwait City) go up in smoke. The victors struck an insurance goal in the dying moments of the second half when Abhishek Das conceded an own goal.
Needing at least a 2-0 (or 3-1) win to become the first ever Indian team to reach the title round of the tier two continental tournament, East Bengal had the bulk of the possession in the first half. They carried attacks into the rival territory but could rarely convert the thrusts into positive, clear chances.
The locals tried to feed their striker James Moga with diagonal long balls but those were not enough. It was a bad day in office for the South Sudanese who missed an easy chance from a one-on-one position by shooting straight into the goalkeeper. Eventually, the African had to make way for Baljit Sahni in the second half.
Two time champions Alkuwait SC, in contrast, played a brilliant strategic game as they slowed down the game in phases, allowed the rivals to dart into their territory and then attacked on the counter catching the East Bengal defence on the wrong foot time and again.
With defence marshall Uga Okpara going up repeatedly to add more muscle to the attack, there were large chunks of empty spaces in the East Bengal rearguard which the swift and well-built visiting forwards utilised to impact the scoreline.
Coutino, left to shoulder more load in the absence of his team's lethal striker Tunisian Issam Jemaa, showed his brilliance through the game. Late in the opening session, he wove Samba magic, by launching into a solo, and outwitted Anab Mondal with speed and ball control before darting into the box and putting the ball home leaving goalkeeper Abhijit Mondal helpless.
Khamis made it 2-0 with another counter-attack in the 44th minute, taking advantage of sloppy goalkeeping by Mondal. The East Bengal shotstopper came out of his charge in a bid to thwart an onrushing Khamis. But the Kuwaiti made his way into the box with the custodian stranded outside. Arnab Mondal made a last ditch attempt to retrieve the situation but failed as the angular grounder entered the net.
Two minutes from the final whistle, Awad added to East Bengal's misery as he dribbled past a host of defenders before essaying a cross which East Bengal's young defender Abhishek Das put into the net in a last-ditch effort to effect a goalline save.
A minute after netting the team's second goal, Khamis received a red card for kicking Okpara.
East Bengal also played the last 25 minutes with a man short after Arnab Mondal failed to cope with Coutinho's lightning speed and brought down the Latin American on the run.