I-League qualifiers: Bhawanipore FC, Mohammedan Sporting win as sporting action resumes after COVID-19 hiatus

Bhawanipore FC produced an impressive counter-attacking football to prevail over the side from Bengaluru in the first match of the five-team round-robin tournament whose winner will book the lone spot in the I-League beginning in December.

Press Trust of India October 08, 2020 18:56:56 IST
I-League qualifiers: Bhawanipore FC, Mohammedan Sporting win as sporting action resumes after COVID-19 hiatus

Apart from empty stands, the match saw water breaks in each half and five substitutions available to the teams under the new COVID-19 protocols. I-League

Kolkata: City-based Bhawanipore FC defeated FC Bengaluru United 2-0 in the opening match of I-League qualifiers played behind closed doors on Thursday, marking the resumption of sporting activity in the country after a seven-month coronavirus -forced hiatus.

In the day's second match, fancied Mohammedan Sporting had to work hard for a last-gasp 1-0 win over a spirited Garhwal FC.

Sanitation tunnels, temperature checks of players and officials, pre-match social-distancing routines were in place at the Salt Lake Stadium as football – or for that matter live sporting action – resumed in the country after the 14 March Indian Super League final.

Bhawanipore FC produced an impressive counter-attacking football to prevail over the side from Bengaluru in the first match of the five-team round-robin tournament whose winner will book the lone spot in the I-League beginning in December.

Apart from empty stands, the match saw water breaks in each half and five substitutions available to the teams under the new COVID-19 protocols.

Full-back Munmun Lugun scored a long-range goal in the penultimate (90+3') minute to win the match for Mohammedan Sporting at the Kalyani Stadium.

The game seemed to be headed for a goalless draw, with Mohammedan's Willis Plaza missing a penalty in the second half.

However, Munmun came to the rescue in the dying moments to snatch a dramatic victory and begin his side's campaign with three points.

The first half began with half chances for either side, with Garhwal FC earning a free-kick in a dangerous position in the very first minute.

However, Muhammed Shafeer's delivery was collected by Mohammedan's captain and custodian Priyant Singh.

In the fifth minute, Plaza was played in on goal with a wonderful long pass but his first-time shot from a tight angle went wide of the target.

It was the Kolkata-based side that dominated possession for most parts of the first half, with wingers Himanshu Jangra and Vanlalbiaa Chhangte looking dangerous down the flanks. Both entered the penalty area on a number of occasions but could not help their team open the scoring as the Garhwal FC defence was up to the task.

The Black Panthers dominated possession throughout the first 45 minutes but were unable to find the breakthrough, with Garhwal creating chances on the counter attack and goalkeeper Sayak Barai looking confident in his handling.

Mohammedan earned a golden chance in the 67th minute to take the lead as Gani Ahmmed latched on to a slide-rule through-pass by Plaza and was brought down by Sayak Barai, with the referee booking the goalkeeper and pointing to the penalty spot.

It was Plaza who stepped up to take the resulting kick but he failed to convert the opportunity as the ball hit the upright and went out of play.

Five minutes later, Plaza was to be denied by the woodwork yet again – this time the crossbar. Faiaz played in a chipped ball from the left side of the penalty box and the Trinidadian saw his headed attempt come back off the bar.

Earlier in the day, Bhawanipore head coach Shankarlal Chakraborty showed his tactical acumen, starting with a three-man defence which withstood a bright start by FC Bengaluru United. Richard Hood's team put its opponents under pressure with good movement around the penalty box but were unable to find that final touch.

The first clear opportunity fell to FC Bengaluru United in the 21st minute when Bhawanipore custodian Shilton Paul came off his line while trying to punch the ball for a corner but could not connect cleanly. However, Bengaluru failed to capitalise as Azharuddin Mallick was only able to head over the bar.

Paul did not let that minor mishap trouble him though as he commanded his box impressively, keeping the Bengaluru forwards at bay with a string of impressive collections.

FC Bengaluru continued to press for the opener but much against the run of play, Bhawanipore broke the deadlock in the final minute of the first-half added time.

Ghanian forward Philip Adjah was sent through on goal and his shot was only parried onto the feet of an onrushing Pankaj Moula, who was at hand to tap in the rebound.

As expected, FC Bengaluru United came out all guns blazing in the second half but were met by a well-drilled Bhawanipore defence.

With Bengaluru committing men forward, Bhawanipore doubled their lead in the 60th minute with a lightning-quick counter-attack. Altamash Sayed picked up the ball just outside his penalty box and played a long ball in search of Adjah.

The Ghanian kept Bengaluru skipper Rana Gharami at bay and then thumped a powerful volley right across the face of goal, leaving the keeper with no chance as the ball bounced in off the far post.

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