THROWBACK: When East Bengal FC became the first Indian team to defeat a West Asian team away from home!
Last Updated 7:21 PM 5th June 2020 .
East Bengal Football Club has been one of the glorious sporting institutions of the country since it’s inception a century ago. We have in our previous THROWBACK articles have discussed how the club has been glorious in endeavours against foreign opponents through various generations.
Today, we will discuss about one of the rare feats that East Bengal FC boasts when they defeated Al-Wahdat of Jordan away from home in 2008 AFC Cup to become the first Indian football team to win against a club from Middle-East at their home.
After the hugely successful first half of the decade, East Bengal FC could not live up to the expectations in the later half of the decade, especially from 2006 when their form in the national stage declined. In 2007, although under the coaching of Subrata Bhattacharya, East Bengal FC won the Federation Cup in Ludhiana but once the National Football League began, the team succumbed to pressure and there was even a point in the campaign when the Red and Gold brigade were fighting to save relegation.
Coach Subrata Bhattacharya resigned and in came Monaranjan Bhattacharya who helped the team finish 6th in the I-League. However, after the I-League campaign finished, Monaranjan Bhattacharya stepped down due to personal reasons and he was replaced by former left-back Aloke Mukherjee, who took charge of the team for the IFA Shield and AFC Cup matches that were remaining for the season.
East Bengal FC were grouped in one of the most tough groups, alongside Safa SC of Lebanon, Al-Ahli Sana of Yemen and Al-Wahadat of Jordan in the Group B. Safa SC of Lebanon were the runners up of the Lebanon Premier League in 2006-07 and they also went on the become the runner’s up of the 2008 AFC Cup. Al-Ahli Sana were the Champions of Yemen while Al-Wahdat were the Jordan League champions in 2006-07 and were also back to back semifinalists of 2006 & 2007 AFC Cup.
Al-Wahdat had stars like Mahmoud Shelbaieh, Hassan Abdel Fatah, Rafat Ali Jaber of the Jordan national team led by Egyptian coach Mohamed Omar El-Zeer. They were considered one of the best teams from Jordan winning the Jordanian Premier League in 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2009, among the 16 total titles.
In the opening fixture of Group B, East Bengal FC had to travel to Beirut Lebanon, to play against a strong Safa SC and in a closely fought game they lost by a single goal. The Red and Gold brigade did take positives out of the game and it was evident in the second game of the group against Al-Ahli Sana of Yemen. East Bengal FC defeated the visitors courtesy of a thunderous volley from Brazilian forward Edmilson at the Salt Lake Stadium.
The Red and Gold brigade were to travel to Amman Jordan for their next game against the toughest opponents of the group Al-Wahdat SC. The team had to make a long nineteen hours journey to reach Al Zarqa city in Amman where the game was scheduled to play.
The game began at the Prince Mohammed International Stadium with the home side piling up attacks. East Bengal FC defence led by captain M Suresh and Nigerian Majek Bolaji had a tough time dealing with the all-out attack of the Jordanian side and Indian national team number one Subrata Paul became impenetrable under the crossbar.
On the 9th minute, Subrata Paul made the save of the game when he blocked Rafat Ali’s long-range effort which was deflected and changed it’s direction. Subrata had already committed to his left and then had to re-adjust and made a terrific save to keep the scoreline even.
Subrata Paul made another terrific save just 5 minutes later when tipped over a close-range effort from Mohammad Abdallah over the bar for a corner kick.
The first half of the game was all about Al-Wahdat SC attack vs East Bengal FC defence. East Bengal FC striker Edmilson got just one opportunity in the first half which he squandered. Al-Wahdat got one more huge opportunity late in the first half when Shelbaieh broke into the left side of the area before passing on to an unmarked Al Sapah, but his shot was blocked by Debabrata Roy.
The scenario however changed after the break as East Bengal FC came out with a new approach and started to attack instead of just holding their lines. Edmilson and Alvito D’Cunha combined well to provide a threat to the Jordanian defence and it was in the 58th minute when Al-Wahdat’s goalkeeper Mahmoud Qandil made an error with his goal-kick which fell right at the feet of Alvito and the Goanese made no mistake to find the back of the net with a left-footed long range strike from outside the box to give East Bengal FC the lead, almost against the run of the play.
Al-Wahdat pushed forward seeking for the equaliser after conceding the goal and Subrata Paul had to make a few more saves. However, this provided space for East Bengal’s midfielder Ike Ibe Gift to push forward and in the 69th minute, Gift doubled the lead for East Bengal FC with a powerful drilled shot from the top of the box from a counter-attacking movement.
The home side were shocked to be 2-0 down and with 21 minutes to play, they threw everything at East Bengal FC but it was the heroics of M Suresh Majek Bolaji and Subrata Paul, that kept East Bengal FC at bay and the Red and Gold brigade became impenetrable on the day. The team managed to hold on to the 2-0 lead and secure a memorable victory against a very strong Al-Wahdat SC side at their home.
East Bengal FC coach Aloke Mukherjee expressed his joy on reaching Kolkata, claiming “We didn’t have any plans to win and were aiming for a draw. We are happy with the win especially with the big difference between Indian and Jordanian football.”
The victory against Al-Wahdat SC at Amman will forever be remembered by the Indian football fans as it was the first ever win by any Indian club against a West Asian team at their home. Dempo SC also achieved the feat a few weeks later when they defeated Al-Muharraq of Bahrain at their home with twin strikes from Ranti Martins, in the group stage game of the 2008 AFC Cup.
East Bengal FC however, couldn’t move past the group stages as they ended with 7 points similar to Al-Wahdat SC but with a lesser goal difference which meant they finished third and were eliminated.
Al-Wahdat SC: Mahmoud Qandil, Ahmed Youssef Ali, Fadi Faris Sahin, Hasan Abdel Fatah, Basem Othman, Mahmoud Shelbaieh, Issa Al-Sapah, Rafat Ali Jaber, Mohammad Jarrar, Mohammed Abdallah, Hayder J Kadhem.
East Bengal FC: Subrata Paul, M Suresh, Majek Bolaji, Debabrata Roy, Alvito D’Cunha (Snehasish Chakraborty), Ike Ibe Gift, Syed Rahim Nabi, Mehtab Hossain, Mehrajuddin Wadoo, Surkumar Singh, Edmilson.