East Bengal breeze past Negri Sembilan 4-2

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/images/thumbnail/ver1/b/baichungnew.jpg' class='caption'> East Bengal registered an emphatic 4-2 victory against Malaysian outfit Negri Sembilan in a group E opening round match of the AFC Cup today.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:05 IST
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India's premier club East Bengal registered an emphatic 4-2 victory against Malaysian outfit Negri Sembilan in a group E opening round match of the AFC Cup today. The city giants, who had opened their Cup campaign with a 3-2 triumph against Singapore's Gaylong United, stretched their winning streak at the Salt Lake stadium to step ahead for a quarterfinal berth in the 18-team tournament. Starting with a bang, East Bengal maintained their supremacy throughout the proceedings, barring a 20-minute stretch after the breather, and scored twice in each half to ensure full points from the home tie. Brazilian Christiano Junior struck a brace (31st and 75th minutes) and Mike Okoro (9th) and Baichung Bhutia (66th) scored one apiece for the hosts while Rajan Al Koran (45th) and Shahrin Bin Mohammed (62nd) reduced the margin for the visitors on their maiden international outing abroad. The morning showed the day for the Kolkata outfit, who pounced on the lesser opponents on the first minute before opening the account barely nine minutes into the game. It was a nice one-two-one between Okoro and Bhutia on top of the rival box that baffled the Negri defence before the Nigerian unleashed a right foot diagonal grounder that sneaked into the net past Negri's towering goalie Cajetan Oparaugo. With complete domination in the middle, East Bengal increased the scoreline in the 31st minute through a penalty awarded after Oparaugo brought down a goal-bound move by Bhutia inside the box. Junior made no mistake to keep his grounder into the target. After establishing a 2-0 lead and disintegrating the rivals on the field, East Bengal afforded a couple of misses that came in their way – blissfully unaware of the sudden reverse that was to follow. The visitors, looking a surrendered lot so far, however struck in the dying minutes of the opening session. Medio Rajan, a member of the national squad, received a pass from Efendi Malik on top of rival box, took a sudden speed to edge past two defenders and rammed a grass-cutter that zoomed into the net giving no chance to East Bengal custodian Sangram Mukherjee. This proved to be a wake up call for the Malaysians, who wrested midfield control from the beginning of the second half. The induction of youngster Shahrin in place of Syaiful also added fizz to their attacks that showed the famed rival defence in poor light during next 20 minutes. Amidst such pressure, Negri scored the second goal in the 62nd minute from a gem of a free-kick by Shahrin, whose inswinger from outside penalty arc was bang into the target. The goal restored parity for Negri but also marked an end to their short-lived domination as it was now the turn of Bhutia to rise to the occasion. And the Indian skipper did it in style by netting the third goal for the city giants through a flying header of a Subhas Chakraborty centre in the 66th minute. The narrow margin, it seemed, was not enough for East Bengal to be sated with. The hosts consolidated their lead in the 75th minute through an opportunistic strike by Junior, who grabbed a loose ball near the box, ran straight and neatly slotted home to the dismay of the rival citadel. (PTI)

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