THROWBACK: When East Bengal FC became the Champions of Central Asia!
Last Updated 5:52 PM 9th September 2020 .
East Bengal Football Club has been a glorious institution in the history of Indian football through the various generations, bringing in fame and accolades which have indeed boasted the pride of the country. The club has won three International trophies outside the Indian soil, most by any Indian Football team till date, including the fanous ASEAN Cup triumph in 2003.
Today, we will discuss about the fourth International triumph that the East Bengal Football Club recorded, which is unspoken off due to technicalities, when the club won the 1985 Asian Club Championship – Central Asia Round held in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The tournament was named as Coca-Cola Cup and the winner’s from each Zonal tournaments qualified for the Main round of the Asian Club Championship (now called as AFC Champions League) which was held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
In 1985, East Bengal FC under the guidance of legendary coach P. K. Banerjee, the club built a formidable squad which is still now considered as the best squad of the 80s.
The Red and Gold brigade captained by right-back Balai Mukherjee, had Monoranjan Bhattacharya and Tarun Dey as the centre-back pairing and Aloke Mukherjee as the left-back with custodian Bhaskar Ganguly under the bar. In the midfield they had the all-rounder Sudip Chatterjee along with Dabasish Mishra, Sunirmal Chakraborty and Bikash Panji while the forward line was comprised of Krishanu Dey, Biswajit Bhattacharya, Debasish Roy and Iranian Jamshid Nassiri.
The East Bengal FC team won the Calcutta Football League by a handsome 8 points margin over arch-rivals Mohun Bagan and proved their dominance over Indian football when the club won the Federation Cup held in Bengaluru, defeating Mohun Bagan once again in the final courtesy of a goal from Jamshid Nassiri and hence qualifying for the 1985-86 Asian Club Championship, Central Asia Round to be held in Sri Lanka.
Along with East Bengal FC, Abahani Krira Chakra (now Dhaka Abahani) from Bangladesh, Saunders SC of Sri Lanka, Pakistan Airlines Football Club, Club Valencia from Maldives and New Road Team from Nepal qualified for the Central Asia tournament. The champions from Iran and Afghanistan also qualified but they both had withdrawn their names ahead of the tournament.
There was bad news for the Red and Gold brigade just before they were to depart for Sri Lanka as two of the star names Monoranjan Bhattacharya and Jamshid Nassiri had issues with their visa and as things stood, the duo would miss the first match of the tournament. Monoranjan Bhattacharya also had suffered an injury before the tournament and even though he travelled later, he would not feature in any of the matches in the tournament and it was Alok Saha who partnered with Tarun Dey as the centre-back pairing.
In the first game East Bengal FC without two of their star players faced the Nepali champions New Road Team at the Sugathadasa Stadium in Colombo. The game however was completely dominated by the Red and Gold brigade as they thrashed the Nepali champions by 7-0, with Biswajit Bhattacharya alone scoring four goals and Debasish Roy scored a brace while the 7th one was an own goal by Nepali defender Birbhadra Pradhan.
In the second game, East Bengal FC were supposed to face Abahani Krira Chakra of Bangladesh. The star duo of Monoranjan Bhattacharya and Jamshid Nassiri could not make it in time as they reached just few hours before the game and their names were not included in the 18 men squad.
The Abahani team was one of the strongest in the group, with likes of Monem Munna and Aslam in the team, who would later come and play for East Bengal FC in 1991. Abahani Krira Chakra had qualified for the tournament after winning a hat-trick of Bangladesh Championships from 1983-85.
The game began with Abahani Krira Chakra attacking the East Bengal FC team however the defence led by Tarun Dey was equal to the occasion and cut off all attacks from Munna and Aslam. The Bangladeshi team did came close to take the lead in the first half but was time and against prevented by goalkeeper Bhaskar Ganguly and even a few times by the crossbar.
It was eventually a perfectly placed through ball by Biswajit Bhattacharya, splitting the Abahani defence, early in the second half which was latched onto by a forward running Debasish Roy, who had scored a brace in the first game. Roy took a powerful shot from the right corner of the box which ended up at the back of the net as East Bengal FC scored the only goal of the game and took full points from the match.
In the third match, Jamshid Nassiri was back in the squad but Monoranjan Bhattacharya was ruled out due to his injury. East Bengal FC were to face the Pakistani champions Airlines Football Club from Karachi. It was once again Debasish Roy who scored in his third consecutive game to put East Bengal FC ahead and then Biswajit Bhattacharya scored the second to complete a 2-0 victory.
There were two more matches left and East Bengal FC required just a single victory to secure the top spot. In the fourth game they faced Club Valencia, the champions from Maldives and having already smelled blood, the Red and Gold brigade went for the kill and would go on to record the highest ever margin of victory by an Indian club till date in AFC competitions as East Bengal FC routed the Maldivian team by 9 goals to nil.
The man in form Debasish Roy scored a hat-trick to take his tally to 7 goals in the tournament while Jamshid Nassiri and Monojit scored a brace each. Debasish Mishra and Samar Chowdhury scored the other two as East Bengal FC secured the top spot in the Central Asia Round of the 1985/86 Asian Club Championship, with a game to spare.
In the last game against hosts Saunders SC of Sri Lanka, which was merely a game of formality for East Bengal FC, the Red and Gold brigade maintained their perfect record and completed their 5th successive win with a solitary strike from Jamshid Nassiri. East Bengal FC also maintained their perfect record of not even letting in a single goal in the entire competition, with Tarun Dey stepping up in the absence of Monaranjan Bhattacharya and was perfectly adjudged as the Man of the tournament.
The triumph in the Central Asia Round of the 1985-86 Asian Club Championship, meant the club had qualified for the main round to be held in Jeddah later. The East Bengal FC team were presented with the Coca-Cola trophy by the President of Sri Lanka.
The victory in the Coca-Cola Cup meant East Bengal FC were the best team from Central Asia and they were grouped with Al-Ahli of Saudi Arabia and Krama Yudha Tiga Berlain of Indonesia in the Quarterfinal group league of the Main round.
East Bengal FC’s coach P. K. Bannerjee had resigned after returning from Sri Lanka ahead of the IFA Shield tournament as he took over the Indian national team. Shyam Thapa became the new coach for the Red and Gold brigade and took the team to Jeddah for the main round, where they lost the first game to hosts Al-Ahli in a closely fought game by 2-1, Debasish Roy once again scored the only goal for East Bengal. In the second game they lost to the Indonesian champions and thus ended the dream run.