Cuttack, May 14:
Defending champions Mohun Bagan and strong contenders Bengaluru FC (BFC) won their respective semi-finals to set up a title clash in the Federation Cup football tournament in Odisha’s Millenium City on Sunday.
Mohun Bagan, who have won the Federation Cup for a record 14 times, kept their title defence on track by defeating arch-rivals East Bengal 2-0 in front of a sizeable crowd consisting of supporters of both clubs at the Barabati Stadium here.
Darryl Duffy (35th minute) gave Mohun Bagan the lead before half-time of the high-voltage semi-final before his fellow striker Balwant Singh (84th minute) produced an acrobatic finish to make the issue safe in the final minutes.
BFC got the better of Aizawl FC 1-0 in a hard-fought encounter in the other semi-final.
Cameron Watson converted a penalty to score the only goal of the semi-final in the eighth minute.
BFC held on to the slender lead despite numerous chances at either end.
Aizawl were awarded a penalty in the final seconds but BFC goalkeeper Amrinder Singh parried away a poor effort from Lalram Chullova to knockout the recently crowned I-League champions out of the tournament.
This is the second time that BFC have entered the final of the Federation Cup.
They had last qualified for the summit clash during the 2014-15 season when they defeated Goan outfit Dempo SC 2-1 to clinch the title.
The final will be played on May 21 while the play-off for third place is scheduled for May 18.
The clash between the two Kolkata giants was the highlight of the day as Mohun Bagan sought to add to their tally of 19 final appearances in this tournament.
East Bengal were off to a bright start and could have taken the lead as early as the eighth minute when Wilis Plaza failed to tap home from close range after Mohammed Rafique had found him inside the Mohun Bagan penalty box.
Three minutes later, Rafique saw his header from inside the box being denied by a fine save by Mohun Bagan goalkeeper Debjit Majumder.
There were more bright moments for East Bengal, but they failed to capitalise on them.
In the 16th minute, Rowllin Borges’s shot earned a good save from Debjit and seven minutes later Wedson came close to drawing first blood when his shot from distance curled inches over the goal.
For Mohun Bagan, the first real attempt at goal came in the 25th minute when a free-kick by Haiti international Sony Norde was parried away for a corner after Duffy was brought down.
Mohun Bagan gradually started to get a grip on the proceedings and took the lead when Duffy’s deft header off a Norde cross bulged the net.
East Bengal dominated possession and shots on goal, but had nothing to flaunt for their prowess.
Mohun Bagan’s midfield sat deep in the second half and protected their defence for much of the proceedings, trying to safeguard the slender lead.
The Mohun Bagan defence too became compact and proved impenetrable for the East Bengal duo of Plaza and Wedson.
They attacked the counter and Norde almost came close to doubling the lead when his shot flew inches wide of the goal in the 60th minute.
Three minutes later, Rafique had a golden opportunity to level the scores after a long ball in the box had left the Mohun Bagan defence in tatters.
Rafique, however, failed to shoot the ball home from close range to add to East Bengal’s growing list of missed opportunities.
Mohun Bagan had a narrow escape in the 78th minute when Debjit made a reflex save to deny Plaza’s header from close range.
The East Bengal players and supporters were left to rue their long list of missed chances when Balwant doubled Mohun Bagan’s lead in the 84th minute.
Sehnaj Singh released an accurate through ball into the East Bengal penalty area and Mohun Bagan’s Japanese star Yusa Katsumi followed the ball till the rear touch line before producing a pin-point back pass which was met with an acrobatic finish by Balwant.
Mohun Bagan then held on in the final minutes to ensure their passage into the final.
Earlier in the day, BFC and Aizawl were involved in a fast paced encounter that saw both sets of forwards miss numerous chances at either end.
BFC took the upper hand early on when Alwyn George was brought down inside the Aizawl FC penalty box by a clumsy challenge and the referee pointed straight to the spot.
Watson stepped up and slotted the ball into the bottom left corner to hand BFC the lead.
At the back, BFC’s defensive pair of John Johnson and Sandesh Jhingan gave the Aizawl forwards a torrid time.
In the 12th minute, Aizawl striker Kamo Bayi found himself in possession inside the BFC box, but a sweetly timed tackle by John Johnson robbed him of the ball before he could take a shot.
Four minutes later, Lalram Chullova cut into the BFC box from the left flank before unleashing a shot, which was intercepted by the tall figure of Sandesh Jhingan and went out for a throw-in.
Playing on the counter, BFC came close to doubling their lead in the 21st minute after Eugeneson Lyngdoh released C.K. Vineeth onto goal with a well-weighted through ball.
Vineeth’s shot, however, was met with Aizawl defender Kingsley Eze’s hurling body. Vineeth passed the rebound for an onrushing Alwyn George to capitalise. But George shot the ball over the bar.
At the other end, Aizawl FC were handed a golden opportunity to score the equaliser after Kamo was found on the far post by a delicious Lalram Chullova cross.
The Ivorian, however, could not make clean contact with the ball and headed it wide of the goal.
Watson hit the post in the 39th minute when the BFC midfielder curled in a shot from outside the Aizawl penalty box.
The rebound fell for Lyndoh who was unmarked just outside the six-yard box but his close range attempt was saved by Aizawl goalkeeper Albino Gomes.
Aizawl coach Khalid Jamil revamped his side’s tactics in the second half and Syrian import Mahmoud Al-Amna who was sitting deep in the first half was given more freedom around the BFC box.
The Syrian, however, was booked for simulation after he beat two defenders to get into the BFC box but fell, in hopes of a penalty, with minimal contact.
Aizawl played with a high line and an offside trap that outfoxed the BFC forwards more than twice. Every time Al-Amna got the ball, the Syrian ran into the BFC box in hope of fostering a goal scoring chance.
That chance remained elusive for Aizawl FC as BFC’s compact defence kept them at bay.
Lalram Chullova missed from the penalty spot right in the final seconds as a diving Amrinder blocked the ball. The rebound fell to an onrushing Lalram Chullova but Amrinder cleared the danger as the referee blew the final whistle. (IANS)