Bhubaneswar: Trinidadian striker Willis Plaza struck twice, including the match-winner, as Churchill Brothers beat Delhi Dynamos 2-1 to enter the final round of the inaugural Super Cup football tournament on Thursday.
Plaza cancelled out Kalu Uche's fifth minute strike by scoring his first goal of the match in the 34th minute before finding the the match-winner in the 106th minute as the qualifying round match went into extra time after both sides were locked in a 1-1 stalemate in 90 minutes.
The Goan side will now face Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan, another I-League side, on 1 April at the same venue of Kalinga Stadium in the main round of the tournament beginning 31 March.
With the win, Churchill redeemed their wretched season somewhat after they finished ninth in the 10-team I-League.
For Delhi Dynamos, this was their first loss after the six-match unbeaten run in the ISL. They had finished at eighth position in the ISL.
The ISL side started strong, controlling the proceedings from the midfield where Uruguayan Claudio Mirabaje Correa had an outstanding half.
The Lions got a goal as early as the fifth minute when the Kalu Uche, fresh from a 13-goal run in the ISL, latched on to a ball just outside the box on the left after a neat 1-2 with Nandhakumar, before unleashing a pile-driver which crashed into the back of the net.
Delhi continued to dominate possession. Romeo Fernandez, the Lions' right-sided midfielder, then found Uche again in the 12th minute with a wonderful cross. The Nigerian's header, this time, brought about a neat save from Churchill goalkeeper Cardozo. A minute later, Lalianzuala Changte missed with a clear sight at goal from inside the box.
After the first quarter of an hour, Churchill slowly started to find their feet into the game. They started to work the wings, but were particularly let down by PM Britto's crosses from the right.
In the 32nd minute, Nicolas found Plaza with a wonderful floater from the left wing. The Trinidadian controlled the ball in his own imitable way and drilled a shot through the near post into the back of the net. Delhi's Spanish goalkeeper Xabier had no chance.
Churchill had clearly shed all inhibitions after the first-half display as they immediately brought in Israel Gurung for Yendremban Meitei at the start of the second half, thus bolstering the midfield by sacrificing a defender.
Delhi, meanwhile, had also effected a substitution at the same time as Churchill, but theirs was like for like with Seityasen Singh replacing Romeo Fernandez in the midfield.
It turned out to be a half of sustained end to end action with both sides creating opportunities and missing with equal disdain. Mirabaje's effort from a free kick in the 56th minute sailed over and away from the bar while Plaza in the 61st minute unleashed another one of his lightning strikes from the top of the box which brought about a good save from Irueta.
While Delhi were still ahead in possession and were pressing hard, their efforts to weave through the Churchill defence lacked imagination and penetration. Churchill, on the other hand, seemed to have embarked upon a strategy of soaking in the pressure and trying to release Plaza with the long ball from their own half, which was causing problems for the Delhi defence.
It was a very sluggish first 15 minutes of extra time with both teams creating half-chances at best. But Plaza breathed life into the second half of extra time when an innocuous long ball from Jovel Martins from deep inside the Churchill defence saw Plaza trap beautifully over two defenders inside the Delhi box and neatly wrong-foot the keeper to beat him again at the near post.
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: Mar 15, 2018 22:57:28 IST