East Bengal reach Durand final

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/images/thumbnail/ver1/f/football1.jpg' class='caption'> East Bengal defeated pipped JCT Mills 1-0 to move into the final of the Durand Cup football tournament today.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:04 IST
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New Delhi:

Syed Nahim Nabi emerged East Bengal's saviour as the National Football League champions pipped JCT Mills 1-0 to move into the final of the Durand Cup football tournament today. Nabi's header in the 71st minute off a superb throw by Habibur Rahman saved the day for the red and yellow brigade who were otherwise outsmarted by the JCT team. The final between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan will take place on Wednesday. Earlier, Mohun Bagan had beaten defending champions Salgaocar SC via tiebreaker to book a place in the finals. Poor finishing Nabi's winner came against the trend of play which saw the Punjab team coming close to scoring a number of times before missing the goal either due to finishing mistakes or denied by custodian Rajat Ghosh Dastidar. East Bengal were strengthened by the return of winger Alvito D'Cunha and Habibur, who were with the national team which beat Kuwait in a friendly last week. But JCT were never overawed by the star line-up of the Kolkatans which also included fiery Nigerian striker Earnest Jeremiah and Brazialian Douglas Santos. Apart from allowing some free space to Nabi, it was a near flawless display by JCT defenders Jagjit Randhawa, Harpreet Singh, Nigerian Julius Arpele and Jaspal Singh who came up with clean tackles to frustrate the rivals. Soon after the match began, Alvito got off the blocks with one of his signature runs but Randhawa caught up with him and came up with a superb sliding tackle to dispossess the star player. Huge blow JCT suffered a big blow just eight minutes into the match when forward Harvinder Singh got injured after a crushing challenge by Madhab Das. Coach Sukhwinder Singh replaced Harvinder with Hardip Gill but he never came up to the expectations. He was substituted in the last quarter by Jaswinder Singh. JCT soon cursed their luck after Manjit Singh came up with the moment of the match. First he snatched the ball from Madhab near the half line and beat the challenge of Deepak Mondal before pulling the 'keeper out of position. But his shot missed the far post by a narrow margin. It was then East Bengal's turn to be hampered by injuries when Deepak Mondal injured his calf muscle forcing East Bengal to replace him with Debjit Ghosh. The first half came to an end after a JCT move which saw Manjit's cross just evading overlapping defender Baljeet Singh in the box. Better outfit JCT continued their supremacy after changing ends as East Bengal striker Jeremiah struggled to find his way past the shadow marking of Julius. East Bengal looked a much better outfit after taking the lead with Douglas, who rarely made any serious moves, trying to impress. Meanwhile, JCT thrusts got more venom with the arrival of Jaswinder Singh in place of Hardip Gill. Jaswinder threatened through both sides and almost brought his side back on level terms in the 85th minute. Jaswinder went up through the left with great speed and then beat the defender with a neat dodge before sending the cross in. The ball came to Sukhjinder Singh whose shot from close range was brilliantly blocked by 'keeper Rajat. The rebound came to Baljeet whose shot was cleared by a defender as East Bengal escaped with the final ticket without going into the extra time or the lottery of tie-breaker. (PTI)

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