East Bengal pumped in two quick goals in the space of three minutes to beat a spirited Indian Arrows 2-0 in a fast-paced match and consolidate their position at the top of I-League points table. The visiting Kolkata heavyweights scored through Syrian Mahmoud Al Amna (13th minute) and Japanese midfield general Katsumi Yusa (16th) to walk away with three points at the Ambedkar Stadium.
With the win on Tuesday, their fifth in eight matches, East Bengal maintained their top spot with 17 points. The Indian Arrows, on the other hand, dropped down to seventh in the 10-team league table with seven points from seven matches.
The Arrows had come into the home match with confidence after defeating Shillong Lajong 3-0 here and drawing Mohun Bagan 1-1 in Kolkata in their previous match, but they were beaten by a superior side. The AIFF’s developmental side coached by Luis Norton de Matos and made up mostly of India’s U-17 World Cup players were outplayed by their more experienced opponents in the first half.
They came back strongly in an evenly-contested second half but a goal eluded them as they failed to give finishing touches in crucial moments. East Bengal players gave the youngsters very little space and whenever the Arrows players held the ball, they were chased around. That tactic gave dividends for the Khalid Jamil coached East Bengal as the Arrows players appeared to be unsettled and were unable to keep the ball for long.
Trailing 0-2 early in the match, the home side were desperate to get a goal as quickly as possible. The tension at the team dugout was also apparent as goalkeeping coach Yusuf Ansari was heard using unparliamentary words against East Bengal coach Khalid Jamil, which led to the assistant referee warning the home side official.
The absence of Arrows midfield duo of Amarjit Singh and Jeakson Singh was felt as East Bengal dominated the center of the park with Katsumi operating as the lynchpin for the Kolkata side. Prabhsukhan Singh Gill manned the Arrows goal as number one goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh has left the team. Arrows captain Amarjit Singh received a red card after his second bookable offence in their previous match against Mohun Bagan while Jeakson was injured in the same match on December 29.
The first half saw East Bengal do all the attacking with the Arrows citadel being threatened on many occasions. East Bengal took the lead from a set piece after Abhishek Halder fouled on Katsumi Yusa and Arrows defenders were guilty of letting in the goal. Al-Amna took the free-kick from the left edge of the box and the ball hit the net of the first post with the Arrows defenders caught napping.
Three minutes later, Katsumi curled in a beauty into the top right corner of the net, beating an out of position Arrows goalie in the air after a cross from the right beat all the home side defenders.
De Matos brought in Suresh Singh Wangjam in place of Abhishek Halder at the halftime and the Arrows played better in the second half, appearing a much more compact side. The Arrows kept possession and threatened the East Bengal citadel in the 50th minute but striker Edmund Lalrindika’s effort came to naught as he was closed down and denied to take a shot deep inside the box after he got the better of two East Bengal defenders.
In the 57th minute, Sanjeev Stalin’s corner kick was headed in towards goal by Anwar Ali but Abhijit Sarkar’s back-heel effort was saved by a diving East Bengal custodian Luis Barreto.
However, the attacking danger of the visiting team was still looming. In the 62nd minute, Laldanmawia Ralte’s header off a Katsumi cross earned a top class save from goalie Gill. Katsumi’s another effort from a tight angle was kept out by Gill in the 74th minute as East Bengal looked to extend their lead.