Army get past Sporting to enter final

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Army XI make their maiden entry into the final of the Durand Cup football tournament, beating former champions Mohammedan Sporting with a 5-3 penalty shootout v

Updated: February 25, 2007 09:48 IST
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New Delhi:

Army XI made their maiden entry into the final of the Durand Cup football tournament, stealing the thunder from former champions Mohammedan Sporting with a 5-3 penalty shootout verdict in the semi-final at the Ambedkar stadium here today. After a brilliant header from Dipendu Biswas in the 87th minute had nearly sealed them the victory, Sporting let Army off the hook as Saroj Gurung scored the equaliser in added time. Abun Gobi Singh then rose to the occasion, blocking Sporting's first strike by Amandeep Singh in the tie-breaker to see Army through to the final. The few thousands that had gathered, rooted vehemently for the Kolkata club, and at least one of them promised an empty arena on Friday if Army made it to the final. But none of these mattered as the hosts enjoyed the fruits of hard work on the field today. Army men might have lacked the professionalism of Sporting but they put in that extra effort and never gave up till the last moment to emerge winners. Like the tortoise that beat a complacent hare, Army truly deserved their victory. Sporting had only themselves to blame. They gave the impression that the match was already over after Biswas' strike, and had to pay dearly for their complacency. If Amjad Ansari was stupid to concede a free kick via an unnecessarily tackle against Pradip Debnath on top of the box in the dying minutes, the way Insan Ali and others stood watching Gurung net the winner was inexplicable. One of them should have taken charge of the situation, instead confusion reigned and a moment's slackness turned what could have been a victory into sour grapes. Sporting had won the Cup only once before, in 1940, when they beat Royal Warwickshire Regiment 2-1. The Bengal team went into the match as the favourites and had the crowd, less in number than what had turned up on Sunday when Sporting took on JCT, fully behind them. They could have gone ahead of Army early in the first half when Rahim Nabi and Abdul Latif Seriki entered the rival penalty area with a fine 1-2 combination. But as the ball came back from goalkeeper Abun Gobi Singh's block, Bhuban Joshi fumbled on the opportunity with a feeble right-foot drive. Then Seriki ran down the right and floated a perfect pass into the centre, which was netted in by Nabi, but the centre forward was ruled off side. Army men were living dangerously. They were successful in trapping the Sporting forwards into off side and outran their opponents repeatedly, but they were always on the defensive. Into the second half, Sporting played with more vigour. A Seriki right footer from 30 yards was well fended by Gobi Singh, and minutes later, they were unlucky to see Nabi shoot wide a rebound. Fortune soon smile on them when, looking for that elusive winner, the referee awarded them a free kick 25 yards on the right. Skipper Hossain Mustafi, returning to the squad after the suspension he picked in the first match against TFA, produced a perfect cross for Biswas to head into the left top corner of the net. The crowd erupted in joy, and it looked as if Sporting had finally overcome the myth of "either score on the opening minute or don't". But the demon returned soon to haunt them and the team will have to wait another year to have a shot at the coveted trophy. (PTI)

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