Once upon a time part of the Spice Route, Cochin stayed witness to all the spice.
Ingredients, they say, make a Football match. Two teams, all disciplined, served on platter some entertaining Football in the second semifinal of the 35th Federation Cup at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Cochin on Thursday (January 23). Three goals in the last 18 minutes, the last of which came two minutes prior to the Final whistle, kept everyone guessing.
Even as Sporting Clube went back with their hands over the Head and Dempo SC with their hands on the Head, the age-old Cliché resurfaced. ‘Football stayed the winner.’ Tenacity, agility, perseverance – there wasn’t any dearth of any.
Sporting Clube de Goa prevailed 3-2 over Dempo SC in the second semifinal to book a summit clash withChurchill Brothers in the Final. This will be the first ever all-Goan affair in a Federation Cup Final.
Anthony Garcia converted two penalties for Sporting after Boima Karpeh had opened the scoring in the 30th minute; while Tolgay Ozbey and Amiri scored one each for Dempo.
Dempo seized the initiative early. They pressed hard and pushed Sporting Clube into their own half. They even earned three corners in the first three minutes and though all the three had different variations, it didn’t yield any result.
Their first real crack at the rival goal came in the 10th minute. Alwyn George lobbed over the Sporting defence for Tolgay but Sporting Goalkeeper Ravi Kumar was equal to the task.
There was another close shave for the Sporting goal in the 15th minute. Clifford Miranda sped down the left but there was no one to meet his centre as it went past to Sporting goalmouth.
Beto, by then, was turning out to be omnipresent. Blessed with deft touches, one of his lay-ups tried to find Tolgay on the left flank but Ravi intercepted it to clear the danger. Two minutes later, Tolgay was booked for an offence on Mathew Gonsalves.
Sporting didn’t have much to boast during the period except a quick one-two between Rowlin Borges and Victorino Fernandes on the edge of the Dempo box. Such was the precision and speed thorough it was executed that the Dempo defence was caught on the wrong foot; and had not Victorino slipped, it would have been an acid test for Dempo Goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani, who hadn’t been tested till then.
However, at the half-hour mark, Kattimani, couldn’t keep at bay Boima Karpeh’s placement as much against the run of play, Sporting went ahead.
Dempo did retaliate earning a free-kick down the left but it went abegging.
The wind in the sail, thereafter, changed. Having absorbed the initial pressure, the Flaming Oranje started to flourish – a glimpse of which was on display when Victorino sidestepped Debabrata Roy in a flash but his shot bounced back from the jungle of legs.
Victorino’s sharpness kept the rival defence guessing two minutes before the interval, but even as he went past his marker, the Dempo defence recovered in time.
Meanwhile at the other end, an onrushing Ravi Kumar, handled the ball outside the box as tried to intercept it earlier than Alwyn George. Off the resultant free-kick, Beto tried to bend it in but Ravi made amends fisting off the danger.
Changing over, Dempo earned two bookings within a span of two minutes. First, Debabrata was booked in the 49th minute for bringing down Bevan D’Mello as the latter had sneaked past. If that was not enough, Pronay Halder brought down Boima just outside the box the former, all in control, looked unstoppable.
In an effort to make an impact, Beto and Alwyn were constantly seen interchanging among themselves. Coach Arthur Papas brought in the fresh legs of Holicharan Narzary in place of Clifford Miranda, the first substitution for Dempo happening in the 59th minute.
Even as Dempo attached relentlessly, the compact Sporting defence didn’t give way. Sporting stayed content in slowing it down and defending at times with even 10-men. The ball did roam around and sometimes even inside the Dempo box, but they weren’t able to penetrate in the real sense.
Just at the time when it seemed Sporting would run home, Beto’s sublime touch broke the shackle. A tap, enveloped in sheer class, hoodwinked the entire rival defence and surprisingly found Tolgay in the clear. The ice-cool Aussie striker, took all his time, held his composure and banged it past Ravi Kumar for Dempo’s equaliser in the 72nd minute.
Understandably, Dempo looked much rejuvenated, but couldn’t hold onto it for long. In the 82nd minute, in an effort to clear a corner, Amiri handled the ball inside the box. Substitute Anthony Garcia made no mistake form the spot.
Surprisingly, even Sporting couldn’t hold onto it for long. Desperate to make amends, Amiri found it best to answer in style when he blasted home a Tolgay pass for the equaliser with just two minutes left for the final whistle.
The extra-time needed some extra effort and both Teams lived up to the expectations. It was Sporting who again surged into the lead in the 105th minute; and this time too, through a penalty. Garcia converted his second one of the match after Holicharan Narzary had brought down Prathesh Shirodkar inside the box.
Sporting could have sealed the fate of the match in the 113th minute had not Keenan Almeida, after being fed by Boima not gone glory himself. Even as Boima, all unmarked waited for the square pass, Almeida decided to have a crack.
Dempo’s last chance came with two free-kicks from just outside the box. But the Sporting defended with pride.