East Bengal’s Golden Continental Run

Kingfisher East Bengal FC has recently been the second Indian team to make it to the last-four stage of a continental championship as the only unbeaten club in this year’s competition. Kaushik Saha traces their incredible journey with a brief history of the tournament and a way ahead for the Red and Gold brigade

One may wonder why I am following up on East Bengal’s record against foreign opponents so soon with a similar piece – but the club’s latest achievement merits another article.
East Bengal became the second team, and first outside the current Indian football powerhouse of Goa (Dempo also reached the semi-finals in 2008, but the tournament was played in a different format then) to make it to the semi-finals of a continental championship – the AFC Cup. What makes their achievement more special is that they have not lost a single match so far – the only club in this year’s competition with the above feat. East Bengal has played 9, won six and drawn 3 this season.
There is another reason to feel proud as an Indian football fan and East Bengal’s. After some unimpressive performances by the national team which includes a loss to Afghanistan in the recently concluded SAFF Cup, East Bengal has joined two teams from Kuwait and one team from Jordan in the last 4 matches.

The AFC Cup

The Asian Football Confederation developed a “Vision Asia” document in the early 2000s in which they looked at the club and national football structure in its entirety. The report identified 14 nations that fell outside the top 14 ranked countries from Asia as “emerging nations”. A decision was taken that domestic clubs from top 14 “developed nations” would play in the Asian Champions League, while 32 clubs from the emerging nations would play in the AFC Cup. There is also an AFC President’s Cup, meant for the 12 teams which do not fall in either category.

The multiple-tier structure is similar to that of Europe’s UEFA Champions League and the Europa League. This is to provide the clubs from emerging nations an opportunity to compete at the continental level. The first edition was held in 2004. Initially, ACL and AFC Cup were unrelated, but 2009 onwards, the winner of the AFC Cup is allowed to take part in the AFC Champions League qualifiers. A single-match Round of 16 was introduced the same year. Kuwait Sports Club and Al-Faisaly club of Jordan are the two clubs with 2 titles each, with Kuwait SC being the defending champions.
India is one of the 14 original countries (the list has kept on changing according to FIFA rankings and clubs’ performances and now increased to 16) and has remained in the list – two clubs are allowed to participate from India. The two clubs that represent India are the champions of the Federation Cup and the I-league.

Indian Clubs’ Performance in AFC Cup

India has been historically represented by only six teams – East Bengal, Mahindra United (now disbanded), Mohun Bagan, Dempo, Salgaocar and Churchill Brothers (Churchill Brothers and Dempo have also played in the AFC Champions League playoffs). Besides Dempo, who lost in the 2008 semi-finals to Al-Safa of Lebanon, East Bengal reached the quarter-finals in 2004 where they lost to Al-Jaish of Syria and Mahindra United reached the same stage in 2007 where they lost to Al-Nejmeh of Lebanon.

East Bengal’s Performance in the Current Season

East Bengal qualified for the tournament as winners of the 2012 Federation Cup, with I-League winners Churchill Brothers being the other participant from India. East Bengal went through a lot of changes during the course of the tournament. First and most importantly, their talismanic coach – who led them in the Round of 32 to the top of the group and then a comfortable win in the Round of 16 -Trevor James Morgan left the team after three years in charge at the end of the Indian football season in June, but before East Bengal played their crucial quarter-final match.
Some changes took place in the team as well. Robin Singh was let go to get in Joaquim Abranches. Penn Orji of Nigeria was replaced by James Moga of South Sudan and Ryuji Sueoka of Japan came in place of Australian Andrew Barisić. However, Mehtab Hussain, the skipper for this season and the engine of the team, defender Arnab Mondal and Nigerian centre-back Uga Okpara have been retained.
East Bengal’s preparation for the quarter-final was far from ideal. Their new coach – Brazilian Marcos Falopa is yet to fully settle in and soak in the local culture. East Bengal played just two competitive matches this season in the Calcutta Football League, one of which could not be completed due to poor light conditions. The opposition was Semen Padang, the Indonesian champions who had played pre-season friendlies against teams from West Asia and topped the group which included Churchill Brothers.

East Bengal vs. Semen Padang
However, two things went in East Bengal’s favour –one, by virtue of earlier round results, they faced a comparatively weaker team from South East Asia rather than a West or Central Asian team. Secondly, they played their first match at home, in front of a vociferous 40,000 strong crowd, which helped them get the initial momentum. They won 1-0 at home (Yuva Bharati Krirangan) via a goal from substitute Ryuji Sueoka. More importantly, they didn’t allow Semen Padang to score an away goal. In the return leg at Indonesia, East Bengal fell behind, but managed an equalizer via South Sudanese international James Moga. The 1-1 draw was enough to send them into the semi-finals on a 2-1 aggregate.

The Way Ahead

In the round of semi-final, both advantages East Bengal had in the Round of 8 will be negated. They will play the defending champions and Kuwaiti Premier League champions Kuwait SC away first on October 1 at their home ground Al Kuwait Sports Club Stadium, followed by the home match on October 22. The first leg will be played just seven days after the second leg of the quarter-final, which means East Bengal won’t have the time to rest their injured players or play a competitive match in Indian tournaments. The I-League has begun, and East Bengal haven’t been able to start so far because of their Asian engagements. That, and the festival season in India means they will virtually have no time for mental and physical preparation for the second leg.

Kuwait SC
Kuwait SC is ranked 141 in the World Football Club ranking, in touching distance with eminent European Clubs like AS Roma. To put in a perspective, East Bengal is ranked last among the eligible clubs at 447, the only Indian club to feature in the rankings.
After losing to Bahrain based Al-Riffa and Safa in the group stage, Kuwait SC have not looked back. They topped their group despite the setbacks. In the Round of 16, they beat Iraqi Premier League club Dohuk SC on penalties. In the quarter-finals, they beat New Radiant of Maldives 12-2 over two legs. They have in their ranks the Tunisian striker Issam Jemâa, (who has the record of scoring the most goals for the Tunisian national team, and is also the top scorer in the current AFC Cup with 13 goals, including 7 vs. New Radiant), Bahrain defender Hussain Ali Baba (who has 71 international caps for Bahrain) and Brazilian striker Rogerinho in their ranks, besides one of the most celebrated players in Kuwait, midfielder Jarah Al Ateeqi as their captain.
East Bengal was embroiled in a slight visa issue, which means some of the key first team players, including captain Mehtab, will reach Kuwait less than 36 hours before the start of the match. Nigerian Chidi Edeh is their top scorer in the tournament and a dependable forward. Coach Falopa has repeatedly stressed that he won’t mind conceding two or three as long as they score at least one vital away goal. The coach hinted at a 4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2 formation, but has kept cards close to his chest as far as the starting 11 is concerned for the first leg.
A victory will be historic, because not only will they be the first Indian team to reach the finals, but will improve India’s AFC quotient. If they do so, they will have to contend with the winners of Al-Faisaly and Qadsia Sporting Club of Syria. And that would be a single leg match on a neutral territory. Let’s wish East Bengal the best and hope they make the nation proud!

Champions Never Die

Soumyadip Das recollects that ill-fated day nine years ago when India lost a talented Brazilian recruit on the football ground owing to poor medical facilities. Sadly, little has changed since!

Cristiano Sebastião de Lima Júnior
On December 5, 2004, it was around 8 p.m. when I returned from my evening classes. My mother was standing with my aunt on the first floor as I entered the house with some friends. This day has always been a sad day for us, as one of my uncles died of appendicitis at the same age as I’m now (22). But what I heard from my mother was something beyond what I could imagine, even in my nightmares. She said, “Your father told me to tell you that Brazilian player Júnior is no more.

I was shocked. I knew the final match of Federation Cup between Dempo Sports Club and Mohun Bagan at Sree Kanteerava Stadium, Bengaluru was due to be held that Sunday. I rushed to my room and switched on the television. The news channels were covering the untimely demise of Cristiano Sebastião de Lima Júnior along with video clips of the match. Dempo was already leading 1-0, thanks to a clinical finish from their Brazilian recruit in the first half. After scoring the first goal, he went to the camera and made the shape of a circle with his two hands to depict a goal, along with his striking partner Ranti Martins. Then the fatal accident happened in the 78th minute. The Brazilian was moving towards the goal to receive a long lofted ball from a Dempo player, Lazarus Fernandes. Mohun Bagan’s goalkeeper, Subrata Paul was rushing out of his goal to prevent him from scoring. The forward got the ball before the opponent and his touch of right foot sent the ball towards the open goal. But within seconds, Subrata collided with him. The goal was given and Dempo players went on to celebrate their victory. Suddenly, Ranti and R.C. Prakash noticed their teammate lying senseless on the ground. They tried pulling him up, in vain. They shouted for medical help, Ranti even tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and waved his jersey to air him. But alas, there was neither enough medical staff nor an ambulance at the ground! It took quite a while to call an ambulance and take him to Hosmat Hospital which was some distance away from the stadium.

The rest of the match continued without any more excitement. Dempo became the Fed Cup champions that year defeating Mohun Bagan 2-0, winning the trophy which Mohun Bagan held for 11 years till then. But the Dempo players were in no mood to celebrate. They were concerned about their teammate. Lazarus Fernandes and a few others wept like a child, so did coach Armando Colaço. Those watching the match at the stadium or on television feared the worst. A few minutes later, Brazilian player Cristiano Júnior was officially declared dead on arrival at the hospital.


My mood changed completely. I’d seen many horrible incidents on the football ground in the past, but never before heard of a player dying on the field, while playing. And in this case, it wasn’t just any player. He was a player everyone loved and was especially close to the hearts of many East Bengal fans like me. He won us our National League victory in the season before that. In 2003-04, East Bengal lifted the National League for the second consecutive time and overall third time. Júnior(No. 26) was the top scorer for East Bengal FC. He had an elite partnership with Indian ace Baichung Bhutia. Júnior scored 15 goals and became the top goal-scorer that season. We never managed to win the League after that. Dempo announced that they will discontinue Júnior’s #10 shirt.

But that cannot erase the memories of the tragedy at one of the premier tournaments of the country’s club football close to a decade back. The incident, sadly, has not served as an eye-opener to committees organising football matches. Till date, the medical facilities available in the ground are not up to the mark. Recently, D. Venkatesh of Bangalore Mars, died of a cardiac arrest at a match again in Bengaluru. This, despite that on May 31, 2012, the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) made it mandatory to have Automated External Defibrillators (AED) in all stadiums during high-profile games including those of the national teams.

Cristiano Sebastião de Lima Júnior was 25 years (born in 1980, Rio de Janeiro) old when he died of coronary artery anomalies on the football ground. The Brazilian was a true goal machine. He left East Bengal FC and joined the Goan club Dempo SC as the highest paid footballer in India at that time in September, 2004. There too he scored many goals, including a brace in the final match of his life. He was a God-gifted striker who scored till his last breath. In India, Junior is remembered every year by his clubs through memorial services. But a true mark of respect would be when similar incidents don’t recur on the Indian football pitch.

Indian National League (I-League) 2011-12 Season Review

With the Indian domestic football season having come to a close in May, Debojyoti Chakraborty summarizes the nation’s top-tier football league


The top-tier football league in India, known as the I-League, came to a close in May and Dempo Sports Club won the 16th edition leaving behind 13 others vying for the honour. The tournament started in 1996-97 as the National Football League to bring in professionalism in an age-old and dying Indian football system. It may seem contrasting but the national team was at its highest ever FIFA ranking of 94 at the start of 1996 but has seen an all-time low of 165[1] in April, 2012. However, football remains a hugely popular sport in India, more so in Kolkata, capital of West Bengal, where it is treated as a religion. Let us start our journey showcasing a recap of the season that just got over.