How Mohun Bagan overcame early loss, tough draw to become Durand Cup 2023 champions
Mohun Bagan once again painted Kolkata maroon and green after beating East Bengal in the final to clinch their 17th Durand Cup title. But their triumphant campaign was anything but smooth.
In the world of football, there are moments that transcend the sport, becoming something akin to art. Something similar was seen in the Durand Cup 2023 final in Kolkata on Sunday, as ten-man Mohun Bagan SG beat East Bengal to be crowned champions in front of a raucous Kolkata derby crowd.
Dimitros Petratos wheeled away for a celebration lap into the stands after scoring a 71st minute goal in front of his home crowd as Mohun Bagan won the Durand Cup, the the oldest football tournament in all of Asia, for the 17th time - one more than their city rivals. East Bengal banged on the doors for an equaliser but in the end it was Mohun Bagan who danced their way to victory, rightfully crowned as the undisputed kings of Kolkata.
The journey to this remarkable victory was anything but smooth. In a game where they went down to 10 men in the 62nd minute, Mohun Bagan demonstrated the true spirit of champions by fighting back with a numerical disadvantage. But to rise against the odds has been the theme of their whole Durand Cup campaign.
Road to final
Let's take a closer look at Mohun Bagan's journey to their 17th Durand Cup trophy. Right from the start, they were among the favorites to claim the title, and they began their campaign in style, thumping Bangladesh Army 5-0.
However, their path to the quarter-finals hung in the balance after an unexpected setback against their arch-rivals, East Bengal. Despite this, Mohun Bagan secured qualification as one of the best second-placed teams after defeating Punjab FC 2-0.
The road to the final was far from straightforward though. In the quarter-finals, they were often under pressure but evetually overcame ISL champions Mumbai City with a resounding 3-1 scoreline, with Anwar Ali, Manvir Singh, and Jason Cummings finding the back of the net.
They faced another formidable opponent in the semi-finals, FC Goa, led by their new head coach, Manolo Marquez. But Juan Ferrando's Mohun Bagan staged a thrilling yet controversial comeback after initially falling behind.
Faced against some of the toughest tests in Indian domestic football, Mohun Bagan had scraped through to the final for a rematch against their city rivals.
On the other side, East Bengal overcame I-league side Gokulam Kerala and then NorthEast United in a penalty shootout to set up a Kolkata derby on the grandest stage of them all.
The "BORO Match"
And then came the big game, the moment every football fan in Kolkata had been waiting for – the Kolkata derby in the finals of the oldest tournament in Asia. As the first whistle pierced the air, anticipation hung like a cloud. There was a drizzle before the match, but who knew then that would mirror the heartbreak of the Red and Gold Brigade after 90 minutes?
The game remained evenly contested for most of the match, with both teams having their chances but failing to capitalize. East Bengal fans roared with optimism when Anirudh Thapa, the new Indian marquee player of Mohun Bagan, was sent off in the 62nd minute after receiving a second yellow card.
It seemed like the tide was turning in their favor. But Dimitri Petratos had other plans. In the 71st minute, he found the net, giving Mohun Bagan the lead they would not relinquish.
East Bengal did make valiant attempts to equalize, but in the end, it just wasn't enough.
Witnessing East Bengal fans continue to chant passionately in the face of defeat, with tears in their eyes, exemplifies the essence of football – a reassurance to their beloved team that, win or lose, they have their back.
The bragging rights belongs to Mohun Bagan, and the noisy neighbours from East Bengal will have to endure their rivals' celebrations until they can secure their next derby victory.
Mohun Bagan, the national club of India, have once again painted the City of Joy in resplendent Maroon and Green, etching another glorious chapter in their storied history with their 17th Durand Cup triumph.