Okoro puts E Bengal in Durand Cup final

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/images/thumbnail/ver1/F/Football1.jpg' class='caption'> East Bengal set themselves up for their 15th title beating Salgaocar Sport Club 1-0 in the Durand Cup football semifinal

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

East Bengal set themselves up for their 15th title when they overwhelmed Salgaocar Sport Club 1-0 in the Durand Cup football semifinal at the Ambedkar stadium here today. It was a momentary lapse that cost Salgaocar the match. In the 79th minute their goalkeeper Juje Siddi failed to collect a harmless pass cleanly and the East Bengal striker Mike Okoro tapped it in with his outstretched leg to give his team the winner. How much was it a result of a misunderstanding between defender Prashant Jaggi and Siddi we would not know but Subhas Bhowmick, coach of the Kokata club, was a happy man, more so because his team had lost its earlier match against MEG, Bangalore, in the league stage. "Sometimes luck plays a part in sport, and I am happy it was on our side today," he said. Luck was never in favour of the Goans who were otherwise well organised in their game. In fact, they almost found the equaliser seconds before the hooter in the injury time when Sunday Seah rose above the defenders and headed a perfect cross from Jatin Bist on the right. But unfortunately the ball hit the cross bar. East Bengal, the 14-time champions, now face Army in the final on Friday. Against a team who are entering the final for the first time, the Kolkata team are the favourites to win the coveted trophy. Today, however, it was Okoro's day out. The Nigerian forward posed a constant threat to Salgaocar dexterously weaving through their defence a number of times. He warmed up with a right footer that was well blocked by Siddi in 20th minute, and midway through the first half he had gained a good rhythm. Soon, combining with Kulothungan, Okoro began to stretch the rival defence and it was to the Goan outfit's credit that it held on well to the onslaught. Salgaocar were never lagging behind in attack though. If Sunday Seah tested the Kolakatans' nerve more through his gamesmanship, Bungo Singh and Dharamjit Singh kept the defenders on toes with swift runs down both the flanks. In the second half, East Bengal changed strategy and began to play long balls. Early in the 50th minute an opportunity went abegging when Malsawmtlunga opted to head the cross from Okoro when there was not enough elevation for him to pack enough power. Malsawmtlunga also wasted another chance when, after entering the penalty area, he produced a weak shot straight to Siddi. But then the unexpected goal came when it seemed that Salgaocar had done well to weather out East Bengal's attack. Okoro's goal was as much a result of pressure finally yielding the result as it was opportunism. Salgaocar though were not to go down without fighting. They recovered from the setback quickly and began to launch a wave of attack. The final quarter of the match witnessed intense football as Salgaocar pressed for the equaliser. In the 87th minute, they had a free kick awarded on top of the penalty area but Bungo Singh sent it sailing above the bar. And then came the Seah header in the stoppage time but it was simply not Salgaocar's day today. (PTI)

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