The second match of the I-League qualifiers saw Kolkata giants Mohammedan SC face off against Delhi-based Garhwal Heroes FC at Kalyani stadium, some 30 kilometres from Kolkata. Mohammedan, coached by former Punjab FC head coach Yan Law, are overwhelming favourites coming into the tournament and began the match on the front foot with a number of chances in the early minutes.
The first goal scoring opportunity of the match fell to Mohammedan’s star striker Willis Plaza who latched on to a long ball down the right from defender Samuel Shadap but shot wide. Another chance followed soon, this time from a corner that GFC goalkeeper SayakBarai misjudged the flight of, but thankfully for him the resultant headed attempt from Sujit Sadhu went over the goal. Both the teams adapted a somewhat physical approach with tackles flying in from everywhere in the first 15 minutes. Gani Ahmed Nigam and HimangshuJangra saw a lot of the ball in the Mohammedan midfield as the Kolkata side dominated proceedings and tried utilising either flank with measured runs from Jangra and VanlalbiaChhangte. At the back, Sujit Sadhu and Eze Kingsley snuffed out whatever little that the Garhwal midfield was able to produce, with their striker Victor Philip cutting an isolated figure. GFC midfielders Muhammed Shafeer, DahirBala and MahipAdhikari started seeing more of the ball in the latter part of the half with neither team able to wrestle the initiative in their favour.
A key aspect of Mohammedan’s gameplay was their defenders and midfielders trying to play out from the back and then stretching the Garhwal defence using a long diagonal aimed at either Jangra or Chhangte. One such move saw Jangra collect the ball inside the opposition half and go on a marauding run past two GFC defenders only to churn out a weak shot at goal. On another occasion, Chhangte’s cross from the right almost found the head of Plaza before Sayak managed to fist the ball out to safety. Garhwal’sNeeraj Bhandari was instrumental in thwarting a lot of Mohammedan’s efforts as he had a fantastic game at the heart of defence.
— Hero I-League (@ILeagueOfficial) October 8, 2020
The second half saw Garhwal try out long balls towards the attackers in an attempt to push the Mohammedan defence back. Soon after, their best chance of the match fell to Victor Philip after he was released down the middle by a pin-point through ball only for Eze Kingsley to save the day with a last-ditch tackle. The game began to open up at this point with Garhwal trying to build an attack down the right hand side and Mohammedan recovering the ball and releasing Jangra on their left in the same move. He attempted a cheeky chipped pass for Plaza inside the box but the goalkeeper got to the ball ahead of him. Another quick move by Garhwal saw substitute Uttam Rai put a delightful cross into the box but as usual, Kingsley was again in the right place at the right time.
Finally, Mohammedan fleshed out their best attempt of the match when substitute Sheikh Faiaz laid off a neat little pass for Plaza just outside the box, whose touch put the ball right in the path of Gani Ahmed. He rounded off the goalkeeper but was caught on his trailing leg by the goalkeeper’s right arm, resulting in a penalty for Mohammedan. Plaza stepped up to take the spot kick and even though he sent SayakBarai the other way, he could only hit the bar with the ball ricocheting off for a throw in. Plaza hit the woodwork again a couple of minutes later when he met Faiaz’s cross from the left with an almost perfect header but it seemed like it was just not his day. At the other end of the pitch, Garhwal carved out a chance of their own when Victor released Uttam Rai down the middle only for the attacker to shoot wide under pressure. With just about five minutes left in the match, it looked like a last-minute smash and grab was a realistic possibility for either team and soon enough the magic moment came from the feet of Mohammedan left-back MunmunLugun. The former Punjab FC defender picked up the ball 25 yards from goal and sent a vicious shot past Sayak at goal that swirled and dipped at the last moment (1-0).
It was a brilliant strike to cap off a somewhat staggered performance from Yan Law’s men who at times looked out of pace after a substantial break from football, something that the coach touched upon in his post-match interview. Garhwal FC coach VikasRawat on the other hand was quietly optimistic about his team’s chances going forward and vowed to learn from their mistakes on the night and do better in the upcoming matches. Mohammedan face Ahmedabad-based ARA FC on the 11th of October next while Garhwal FC will line up against FC Bengaluru United on the same day for their second match of the campaign in what promises to be a closely contested tournament from hereon.