Imphal: Chennaiyin FC (CFC) took their place in the quarter-finals of the 131st Indian Oil Durand Cup, with a fluent 2-0 victory over local favourites Neroca FC (NFC), at the Khuman Lampak Stadium here in Imphal.
The Group C game was the 40th and final of the Group stages, with the quarter-finals scheduled in Kolkata between September 9-12. Anirudh Thapa scored one and assisted in the other, to do the star turn for CFC in what was a game CFC could not lose and Neroca had to win, to survive in Asia’s oldest football tournament.
Chennaiyin looked the better side throughout and definitely had the more quality fire-power at this stage of the tournament, to come through quite comfortably in the end, it what was a pressure game in front of a boisterous home crowd.
It helped Tomas Brdaric’s side that the goal came early. A long ball meant for Croat striker Petar Sliskovic, missed his head but struck his marker’s and fell on the path of Anirudh Thapa’s run. The diminutive midfielder took one touch to burst into the box and let go of a right footer which beat the Neroca keeper Soram Poirei for power.
Neroca could have equalized at the half-hour mark when John Chidi snatched the ball from Iranian defender Vafa, just outside the CFC box and drove in, but his curler round the keeper missed its target.
CFC kept attacking and creating chances however and the Chidi effort turned out to be the only effort of note for the homeside in the end.
The CFC midfield in particular Thapa, began taking total control of the game in the second half. Regular forays by Rahim Ali and Sliskovic, brilliantly martialed by Thapa as well as Sajal Bag on the wings made it a matter of time that CFC would score.
Vafa Hakhamaneshi finally provided that insurance when he leaped up to a beautifully delivered Thapa free-kick, to bang home a header. Soirei did not move.
The experienced CFC side played out the rest of the game without much fuss and with Neroca already deflated. The best they could do was a Johnychand Singh header from a Thomyo cross in the final seconds of added time, that was off target.
Anirudh Thapa, now has five goal contributions in the nine goals that CFC has scored so far in the tournament.
A symbol of India’s football history and culture, the Durand Cup is Asia’s oldest and the world’s third oldest football tournament.
Organized by the Indian Armed Forces, the Durand Cup has been the breeding ground for India’s best footballing talent, over the years.
The inaugural edition happened in Shimla in 1888, when it started off as an Army Cup, open only to the British Indian Army troops in India, but soon opened up to civilian teams. Named after its founder, Sir Mortimer Durand, Foreign Secretary of British India from 1884 to 1894, the iconic tournament reached its 130th edition in 2021. Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have been the most successful teams, winning the tournament 16 times each.