EB enters AFC Cup semi-final after 1-1 draw with Semen Padang


Padang: The drive to succeed was writ large on East Bengal players' faces as they scripted history of sorts after securing their maiden berth in the AFC Cup semi-finals, overcoming a spirited Semen Padang playing in front of a vociferous home crowd here today.The historic Indian club, tucked around the wide open spaces of maidans in Kolkata, advanced on aggregate (2-1) after holding Semen Padang to a 1-1 draw in the the return leg quarterfinal at the Agus Salim Stadium.Playing in front of a packed home crowd, the Indonesian outfit started out aggressively and led at the half-time, thanks to a 23rd minute strike by Andrew Wilson.But East Bengal, who needed just a draw to make the last-four, made a smart move by bringing in Baljit Singh Sahni whose measured cross saw substitue James Moga time his spot jump to perfection as he headed home the equaliser in the 75th minute.For Joaquim Abranches and Abhijit Mondal, the success is all the more sweeter as they were also part of the Dempo squad that had played in the semi-finals of the 2nd tier inter-continental club competition a few years ago. Dempo till now were the only Indian football club to have made the last-four of the AFC Cup.East Bengal had won the first-leg at home courtesy a Ryuji Sueoka strike.Having started the game, Sueoka could only last 43 minutes and it was the Japanese midefielder's replacement, Moga, who struck the all-important goal.Goan heavyweights Dempo had qualified for the AFC Cup semifinals in 2008.East Bengal's previous best show in the AFC Cup was in 2004 when Subhas Bhowmick guided the side to the quarter-finals. Padang were boosted by the return of Argentine playmaker Esteban Gabriel Vizcarra, who missed the last first leg due to a double booking, while the Indonesian outfit's backline too was reinforced in presence of Wahyu Wijiastanto.Needing at least a two-goal margin to make the semis, Padang went into the attack straighway as Wilson's shot went over the bar.A silly error by East Bengal goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh, who shot it straight to Wilson from a goalkick, was enough for the home outfit to take an easy lead.The Liberian forward, lurking upfront, made no mistake as he struck from 22 yards.After the changeover, the Indonesian outfit suffered their first setback when scorer Wilson picked up an injury to be replaced in the 48th minute.The Kolkata heavyweights tried their best to bring in an equaliser, with Moga making inroads as the Sudanese shot one straight to Padang goalkeeper Jandia Eka Putra.In the 65th minute, coach Marcos Falopa's tactical substitution Baljit, in place of Robert Lalthlamuana, paid off.Baljit made a fine attempt to penetrate the Padang box before he put it nicely across to Moga on the left and the former Pune FC forward did well to head it from the far post.Five minutes later, Baljit had a great chance to become the star of the day, but the Indian youngster miscued a shot right in front of the goalmouth.With about 10 minutes left to defend the score, Falopa strengthened his defense, bringing in Gurwinder Singh in place of Abranches as the red-and-gold brigade maintained their unbeaten record.

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