By Ajay Majumder
New Delhi: Army Green beat Neroca FC 6-5 in sudden death to clinch the title in the 128th Durand Cup after the final ended goalless in regulation time and extra time, on Sunday at Ambedkar Stadium in New Delhi.
This is the first time in past ten years when a Army team crowned champions of the prestigious competition after Army XI in 2005. Coincidentally, Army XI also beat Sporting Clube de Goa in penalties to claim the title.
The champion team received cash award of Rs 45 lacs – highest cash prize in the history of the Durand Cup – while runners-up got Rs 20 lacs.
The first half was a evenly matched contest with both teams adopting a cautious approach to the match. For the initial period play was concentrated in midfield.
However, as the game progressed Neroca gradually gained control and created game’s first scoring opportunity when Ashok Singh’s cross from left found an unmarked Malemngamba Meetei inside the rival box but the midfielder failed to keep his effort on target.
Army Green, meanwhile, after soaking pressure in the early exchanges, did show some excellent moves in patches but find it difficult to penetrate the rival box as the first half ended goalless.
The second half was a similar story as both sides opted for a midfield oriented game without taking any risks. Neroca FC had their chances through Sushil Singh and Subash Singh while Army Green went close through Herojit Singh and skipper PC Lallawmkina but neither could break the deadlock as the game progressed to the thirty minutes of extra time.
In extra time both the teams wasted opportunities to take the match to the shootout where Lallawmkina, PD Gurung, Uttan Das, Linesh PV, Bikash Budhathoki and Bikram Adhikari scored for Army Green while Boby Chand was denied by Neroca FC keeper Lalit Thapa.
On the other hand, for Neroca FC, Subhash, David Lalbiaklara, Sohail Shah, Dhananjoy Singh and Ashok converted their chances while Sushil saw his effort saved by Army Green custodian Muhamad Shanoos, Govin Singh hit the woodwork.