Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi Club stormed into the final of the 118th IFA Shield tournament with a thumping 3-0 victory over 28-time champions East Bengal at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata yesterday.
The foreign attacking trio of Emeka Darlington, Sony Norde and Wedson Anselme scored a goal apiece as the Federation Cup champions of Bangladesh outplayed the pre-tournament favourites in a sublime display of attacking football.
With the rousing victory, Sheikh Jamal become the first team from Bangladesh to beat the Kolkata giants in their own backyard and only the second Bangladesh side to reach the final of the world's fourth-oldest football tournament. Sheikh Jamal will play the final on Saturday against Kolkata Mohammedan Sporting Club who won the second semifinal against United Sporting Club 1-0. Although Sheikh Jamal lost their opening game against Kolkata Mohammedan, having conquered Mohun Bagan and East Bengal since, the Dhanmondi outfit will definitely start the final as favourites.
Even though the three foreigners made the difference in terms of goals in yesterday's match, it was a complete team effort from the Dhanmondi giants as they built up the game from the back and through the wings, with skipper Mamunul Islam pulling the strings in the midfield. Joseph Afusi's 4-3-3 formation was put to great use, with lateral movements in the midfield suddenly bursting into pace in the attacking third, to which the Kolkata giants had very few answers.
Having split the East Bengal backline quite a few times in the opening exchanges, Sheikh Jamal found the back of the net in the 23rd minute when Emeka's glancing header on an inch-perfect cross from Wedson went in after brushing the inside of the far post.
Wedson and Sony went close to doubling the lead twice in the next twelve minutes before Sony made it 2-0 by placing the ball with his left foot at the far corner of the net, having darted on to a clever through ball from Emeka.
The home team looked disjointed and posed little threat on goal as their two forwards James Moga and Chidi Edeh were neutralised by the defensive shield of Sheikh Jamal. A desperate East Bengal coach Armando Colaco made two substitutions early in the second half, adding some potency to their attack, but the young defensive shield of Sheikh Jamal stood firm and Sheikh Jamal's second-choice keeper Mazharul islam Himel was good enough to thwart the distance-strikes from East Bengal.
Having a two-goal cushion with just 25 minutes of regulation time remaining, Afusi took off the injured Emeka and brought on midfielder Ali Amisu, whose first touch was a header which missed the target by a few inches. But it soon became 3-0 as Wedson's powerful shot went into the back of the net after taking a big deflection off defender Raju Gaikwad.
Frustration got the better of the East Bengal players as they made some cynical challenges, with their captain Robert Lalthlamuana fortunate to survive a red card offence before veteran defender Arnob Mondal was sent off in the last minute of stoppage time.
The long whistle in the 99th minute was the signal for the Sheikh Jamal contingent to burst into raptures of joy at having achieved a special place in the country's football history, and that too so clinically.