East Bengal FC's AFC Cup final hopes dashed after 3-0 defeat to Kuwait SC
Needing a minimum 2-0 margin win to make it to the summit clash, East Bengal players looked overawed by the occasion and also didn't have the firepower to win the match.
East Bengal's hopes of scripting history by becoming the first Indian football club to enter the AFC Cup final were dashed by a far more superior Kuwait Sports Club who won the second leg semi-final 3-0 in Kolkata on Tuesday.
The scorers for Kuwait SC were Rogerio Coutinho (42nd minute), Hadi Khamees (44th) and Fahad Awaad (87th).
East Bengal played with 10 men for the last 24 minutes as their stopper Arnab Mondal was shown red card for pulling a rival player by holding his jersey.
The two-time defending champions thus made it to yet another continental club championship final with an aggregate scoreline of 7-2.
It was a match where the superior skills by the players and greater tactical acumen shown by Kuwait SC's Romanian coach Marin Ion proved to be decisive.
Needing a minimum 2-0 win to make it to the summit clash, East Bengal players looked overawed by the occasion and also didn't have the firepower to win the match. The decision of East Bengal's Brazilian coach Marcus Falopa to play with a single striker in South Sudanese James Moga defied logic.
Specialist striker Edeh Chidi operating from deep and in-form midfielder Baljit Singh Sahni being kept on the bench for 51 minutes were some other Falopa decisions that could come under scanner.
Kuwait SC soaked in the pressure of playing an away game and then hit on the counter as they closed down the match in the first half. Such was the confidence of the Kuwaiti side that it kept its premier striker Issam Jemma (18 goals in the tournament) on the bench.
Having put up a gutsy show for 40 minutes, East Bengal lost it in the final five minutes before the break as their back-four bungled big time conceding two goals in two minutes as the match ended as a contest at the end of first half itself.
Brazilian midfielder Rogerio Coutinho scored the first goal in the 42nd minute which was as good as one watches in top tier club football across the world. Latching onto a ball in his own half, Rogerio started a diagonal sprint as he was given wide space in the middle and defensive third by the home team players.
With Skipper Mehtab Hossain nowehere to be seen, the Brazilian beat stopper Arnab with sheer speed before scoring with an immaculate placement past a surging goalkeeper Abhijit Mondal.
The goal did have a psychological impact on the East Bengal players as the Kuwaiti side struck again within a couple of minutes.
This time the East Bengal defenders tried to lay an off-side trap, which forward Hadi Khamees duly beat. Abhijit came out of his charge as Khamees lobbed it over his head before slotting it home. Defender Arnab, tried a faulty goalline clearance, which went in vain.
Drama unfolded the very next moment as Khamees kicked East Bengal stopper Uga Okpara and was promptly given marching orders by Australian referee Strebre Delovski.
The third goal, by skipper Fahad, saw him make a mockery of Saumik Dey before rounding off the tally.
Arnab and right back Avishek Das were the ones who botched up on a number of occasions. India international Arnab's defensive capabilities have always been questionable and on international stage, the lanky stopper back flopped once again.
Senior defender Okpara was also disappointing as he failed to fall back after joining others on the overlap.
With the backing of 65,000 partisan supporters, East Bengal players made their first foray into the rival defence in the opening minute when Lalrindika Ralte kept a low cross from the left for Moga, whose header was off target.
East Bengal's pint-sized custodian Mondal made a spectacular save in the 11th minute when he dived full-stretched to save Walled Aly Hussen's left-footed direct free-kick.
East Bengal's best chance came in the 23rd minute when Moga, after receiving a through pass from Mehtab, muscled his way past three defenders, but couldn't get past Kuwait SC goalie Muaab Alkandar.
Moga was replaced in the 51st minute, which led to him making some ugly gestures towards coach Falopa. There was also an altercation that was there for everyone to see.