A late second half strike by substitute Ryuji Sueoka piloted city giants East Bengal to a 1-0 victory over Indonesia's Semen Padang in an AFC Cup quarter final game here Tuesday.
The two sides clash on Indonesian soil September 24 for the second leg, with the winners of the double bill heading to the semi final. East Bengal need a draw in the return leg to become only the second Indian club to reach the semifinals of the tournament. Goa's Dempo FC made the semis in 2008.
The game at the Salt Lake Stadium saw East Bengal holding off repeated assaults from the visitors till the 70th minute, when the 5 feet 7 inch Japanese broke the deadlock with a deft placement from the edge of the box. The attacking midfielder had taken the field only about 15 minutes earlier replacing Reisangmi Vashum.
However, the script could have been so different only five minutes earlier. Pedang's Liberian forward Edward Wilson Junior - a constant irritant for the local defenders - unleashed a power-packed shot that crashed into the post, much to the relief of the around 40,000 East Bengal supporters.
The hosts began well, but seemed less cohesive as the first half progressed. The Indonesians gradually seized the initiative and began dominating, as the pace of the game slowed down.
East Bengal custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was repeatedly tested, but he rose to the occasion, bringing off some fine saves.
At the other end, East Bengal - despite under pressure for the bulk of the game - missed three easy chances.
Midway into the opening session, Vashum muffed up a sitter off a Edeh Chidi distribution by failing to put the ball home from close to the goal.
Crossing over, South Sudanese striker James Moga failed to find the target, before Chidi dribbled past a maze of defenders including the goalkeeper before shooting wayward.
The Indonesians had a look at the East Bengal goal as early as the 15th minute when Yu Hyunkoo's dipping effort was partially saved by Gurpreet, but Roanldo Moro was unable to score the goal from close despite having an empty net before him.
Playing a coordinated game, they troubled the East Bengal defenders from time to time, but in the end failed to make any inroads into the scoreline.