Churchill Brothers scraped past United SC in the inaugural match of the 35th Federation Cup football tournament in Kochi on Tuesday.
All the three goals came in the first half with Abdel Hamid Shabana (5th minute) and Balwant Singh (17th) scoring for Churchill while Ranti Martins (43rd) reduced the margin for United in the Group A match at the the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
In another match at Manjeri, the second venue, Dempo Sports Club came back from a goal down to beat Bhawanipore FC 2-1 at the MDSC Stadium.
Churchill Brothers, who were struggling badly in the season so far, surged into the lead as early as the fifth minute trough Egyptian recruit Shabana. The lead helped them seize the momentum early. Balwant doubled th lead in the 18th minute. Both the goals came after Churchill Brothers beat United's off-side trap.
It could have been worse for United had goalkepeer Jayanta Paul not managed to palm a shot from Balwant in the 15th minute.
United's goal came in the 43rd minute when Ranti Martins chested down Eric Brown's floater, sidestepped Ravanan Dharmaraj and placed it past a diving Churchill Goalkeeper Lalit Thapa.
After the interval, United came back with much purpose and were the more dominating side. They preferred to play it in the gaps with Lalkamal Bhowmick and Eric Brown trying to feed CK Vineeth and Ranti upfront.
United had a flurry of chances but failed to break the deadlock. In the 67th minute, Eric Brown's curler from just outside the 18-yard box failed to beat the Churchill wall. Thapa's reflexes further denied United when he palmed off Brown's scorcher in the 82nd minute.
At Manjeri, second half strikes from Roberto Mendes Silva and Alwyn George sealed the match for Dempo after Bhawanipore had taken the lead courtesy a Dipendu Dowary fine strike. If the first half belonged to Bhawanipore, the second session was Dempo's.
While Alwyn George scored from close in the 66th minute, Beto curled in a freekick from the edge of the area 10 minutes later. Much to the surprise of many who expected a lopsided encounter, Bhawanipore were the better side in the first half, attacking through the wings and keeping the ball better in the middle of the park.
Receiving a pass from J Prasad, Dipendu Dowary cut inside and unleashed a venomous left-footer that swerved past Dempo custodian Laxmikant Kuttimani.
Dempo had few chances as they lacked teeth upfront. Arthur Papas brought in Alwyn George in place of Pronay Halder in the middle of the park to enhance his attacking options but still Dempo found their going difficult until the last few minutes of the opening session. On the other end, Nabin Hela, who came in place of injured Jose Barreto, saw his snapshot fisted away by Kuttimani.
Meanwhile, in the last match of the day, Pune FC were held to a 1-1 draw by home side Eagles FC in the Group A opener at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Striker Riga Mustapha (59th minute) gave Pune FC the lead before striker Koko Sakibo (78th) equalised for Eagles. With a point each, Pune FC and Eagles FC stay second in the group behind Churchill Brothers SC (3 points).
The game began with Pune FC dominating early possession as they went close in the ninth minute. Controlling the ball in the midfield, winger James Meyer created space and let fly from 35-yards, only for his effort to sail over the crossbar.
At the other end, Eagles pushed ahead and went close couple of minutes later. Pune FC once again went close moments later. Picking up the ball on the half-line, playmaker Douhou Pierre went on a counter down the right flank before cutting back to Meyer. The Australian controlled the ball pushing it ahead, but his low grounder lacked power and was easily saved by Eagles custodian Jagroop Singh.
Both sides, thereafter, failed to create any close chance and went into the break tied at nil-nil. At the start of the second half, Snoei handed winger Gabriel Fernandes a debut, bringing him in place of Arata Izumi who walked out after the first half with a limp.
The move saw Meyer drop back and the new signing take his place on the right wing. Pune FC began the second half on the offensive and started penetrating the Eagles' defense. Four minutes after restart, Riga did well to find winger Anthony D'Souza on the left.
The Goan cut in passed a defender on the edge of the box before releasing a right-footed that sailed over. After continuously attacking the opponent's goal, Pune FC finally took the lead around the hour mark.
Douhou brilliantly sent Othallo Tabia clear on the right flank. Doing well to run deep, Tabia did well with a perfectly-chipped pass into the box. Keeper Jagroop, who tried to collect the ball, messed up the collection allowing Riga to capatalise on the gifted opportunity and bury the ball home from close.
Five minutes later at the other end, Amrinder pulled off a great save to block Felix Chidi's freekick from the edge of the box after James Meyer was pulled up for a foul. Into the final quarter, Eagles equalised after the Pune FC defense failed to clear the ball. Striker Koko bulldozed past a host of defenders, took a crack which was blocked by Anas and then did well to control the rebound and finish on second attempt. In the final 10 minutes, Pune FC tried to penetrate into the Eagles box but the home side held on for the draw.