THROWBACK: When East Bengal FC almost pulled off a miracle against the South American Club of the Century!
Last Updated 12:35 PM 27th May 2020 .
East Bengal Football Club has been one of the most decorated sporting institutions in the country ever since it’s inception back in 1920. Along with their endeavours in the domestic football scenario, the club has also developed a reputation of performing high against foreign opponents – be it defeating the Chinese Olympic XI in 1948 or PAS Tehran of Iran in 1970 to lift the IFA Shield to reaching the Semi Finals of the AFC Cup undefeated in 2013, the Red and Gold brigade have always stepped up when they faced a foreign opponent.
Today, we shall discuss about one of the greatest matches in Indian football history where East Bengal Football Club almost pulled off a miracle against the legendary South American Football Club – Peñarol Athletic Club of Uruguay, the club that was adjudged as the South American Club of the 20th Century by International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS) in 2009.
Peñarol Athletic Club had been one of the most dominant names in South American football in the 1980s, winning the Uruguayan Primera Division 4 times, including back to back leagues in 85 and 86. The Manyas, as they are famously nicknamed, had also won the Copa Libertadores in 1982 and 1987, proving how dominant they were throughout.
After winning the 1985 Uruguayan Primera Division and crashing out from the Semi Finals of the Copa Libertadores, Peñarol Athletic Club received an invitation from the Indian Football Association, Bengal to participate in the 1985 IFA Shield to be held in December.
Along with Peñarol, the tournament also featured another Uruguayan club Atlético Fénix and the famous Ukrainian club FC Shakhtar Donetsk.
Peñarol were grouped with Shakhtar Donestk, Mohammedan Sporting and Khidderpur FC in Group A while East Bengal FC were grouped together with Club Atlético Fénix, Mohun Bagan and BNR FC in Group B.
Shakatar Donestk topped the Group A winning all their matches while Peñarol finished second, winning 2-0 against Mohammedan Sporting and thrashing Khidderpur 5-1, but lost in their final group game by 3-0 to Shakhtar Donetsk, who were the runner’s up of the USSR Cup in 1985.
East Bengal FC on the other hand had a terrific season in 1985. Coached by legendary P. K. Bannerjee, they had won the Calcutta Football League by a huge 8 points lead over arch-rivals Mohun Bagan. The club then went on to lift the Darjeeling Gold Cup and then the coveted Federation Cup defeating Bagan once again and hence qualifying for the Asian Club Championship (now AFC Champions League) – Central Asia zonal round, which again they won, winning all their matches and without conceding a single goal.
After the terrific performances in the four tournaments, East Bengal FC were confident against the big foreign names that had came to participate in the IFA Shield. However, coach P. K. Banerjee had to resign as he was appointed as the coach of the national team and he was replaced by another former legend Shyam Thapa. The Red and Gold brigade defeated BNR by a big margin in the opening game and then also defeated Mohun Bagan by 2-0 in the derby.
In the last game of the group stage against Uruguayan club Atlético Fénix, East Bengal FC required just a draw to secure their position as the toppers of the group and both the teams did play out a goalless draw, both ensuring their qualifications into the semifinals.
In the Semi Final, in front of a packed Salt Lake Stadium East Bengal FC faced the Uruguayan champions Peñarol Athletic Club. The Uruguayans were outright favourites but what followed is still considered one of the biggest upsets by fans who were present at the stadium that day.
Peñarol started the game on the upper hand while East Bengal’s defence led by Monaranjan Bhattacharya and Tarun Dey fought neck-to-neck against the South Americans. It was however, the visitors who took the lead as their captain and Uruguayan national team star Herbert Revetria opened the scoring.
The Red and Gold brigade kept on their charge in the game and had a few chances in the second half to equalise, but it was the left-back Aloke Mukherjee, whose name would get etched forever in the hearts of East Bengal fans, took a shot from 35 yards out which ended up in the back of the net, hence equalising the game late in the regulation time. The goal is still considered as one of the best ever to have been scored in Indian football history.
The regulation time ended and East Bengal FC had drew 1-1 against the South American Champions in the Semi Finals of the IFA Shield. The tie-breakers were to follow and the packed crowd at the Salt Lake Stadium held onto their nerves, hoping to see East Bengal FC pull off the miracle.
However, it was not how things panned out and East Bengal FC lost 4-2 in the penalties, hence crashing out of the tournament.
The South American Champions faced Shakatar Donestk in the final of the tournament. The Ukrainians had defeated Club Atlético Fénix 1-0 in the second Semi-Final.
However, in a heavily fought game, it was once again the Uruguayan national team star and Peñarol captain Herbert Revetria who scored the only goal in the 51st minute to take the IFA Shield trophy back to Uruguay.
The game against Peñarol Athletic Club might have been a heartbreaker at the end for all East Bengal FC fans but it was one of the proudest performances that the Red and Gold brigade ever put up against a foreign opponent. It was certainly a miracle that almost happened.