FC Goa have cemented their spot in the knockout stages of the Durand Cup 2023, following their 3-0 win over Downtown Heroes FC in their final group stage game at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium, in Guwahati, on Wednesday.

Goals by Muhammed Nemil, Carlos Martinez and Devendra Murgaokar helped the Men in Orange wrap up their Durand Cup group stage campaign with a win on Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, FC Goa coach Gouramangi Singh made as many as six changes to the playing XI that started in the recent drawn encounter against NorthEast United. Goalkeeper Hrithik Tiwari replaced Dheeraj Singh between the sticks, while new signing Jay Gupta made his debut in defence alongside Odei Onaindia.

The opening goal of the match came in the 19th minute, and it was a moment of sheer brilliance from Muhammed Nemil that set the tone for the Gaurs’ dominance.

Martinez orchestrated the play, deftly laying the ball off for Nemil with a cheeky backheel flick, and the 21-year-old, with a burst of pace and precision, advanced towards the goal and unleashed a thunderous strike from over 30 yards out. The ball rocketed into the top corner of the net, rendering the Downtown Heroes goalkeeper helpless.

FC Goa continued to press forward, showcasing their attacking intent and fluid passing. Their efforts were rewarded once again in the 42nd minute, this time with Carlos Martinez making his mark on the scoresheet.

Nemil, the architect of the first goal, turned provider this time as he displayed commendable vision and skill to play a perfectly weighted pass out wide to Udanta Singh. The latter then swiftly maneuvered down the flank and delivered a precision cross into the heart of the six-yard box for Martinez to meet it with a decisive header from close range, thereby registering his second goal since signing for the Gaurs.

Following the change of ends, Downtown Heroes adopted a more physical approach to try and come back into the contest.

In spite of this, FC Goa continued to create chances at will and should have added a third in the 72nd minute, when Noah Sadaoui found Martinez with a well-timed cross from the left. The Spanish forward, however, fired his attempt over the bar.

Finally, Devendra Murgaokar, who came on in the second half replacing Martinez, added the finishing touches for his team when he snatched the ball from the opposition goalkeeper and slotted home from close range in the last minute of stoppage time.

Following Wednesday’s win, the Men in Orange have completed their Durand Cup group stage campaign with seven points from three matches and find themselves at the top of the Group D standings.

Second-placed NorthEast United have four points from two matches, and will have an opportunity to seal a quarter-final berth with the Gaurs, provided they beat Downtown Heroes in their final game on Sunday.

Siverio’s goal the difference as East Bengal FC see off Punjab FC

East Bengal FC confirmed their berth in the Durand Cup 2023 quarter-finals with a hard-fought win against Punjab FC at the Kishore Bharati Krirangan, in Kolkata, on Wednesday.

Javier Siverio’s first-half goal made the difference as East Bengal FC finished the group stage unbeaten with two wins and a draw. The result also meant it was the end of the road for Punjab FC, who finished bottom of the group. 

East Bengal FC did not enjoy the best of starts, but took control of the game as the first half progressed. It was Punjab FC who created the first opening of the game after some sloppy passing from the hosts. Juan Mera drove forward and fired a quick shot, but Prabhsukhan Gill dived low to parry away the effort.

Carles Cuadrat’s side would soon go on to score the equaliser after winning a corner. A short pass was played towards Borja Herrera, who whipped a teasing cross in a dangerous area inside the box. Siverio rose highest and buried his header into the far corner to put East Bengal FC ahead.

East Bengal FC continued attacking after the opener and came close to scoring another one just before the end of the first half. Naorem Mahesh delivered an inch-perfect cross towards Siverio, who saw his header come off the post.

Punjab FC displayed more intent in the second half, bringing on the likes of Manglenthang Kipgen Samuel Kynshi. Prasanth K. However, Staikos Vergetis' side lacked the cutting edge in the final third as East Bengal FC defended alertly. They found it tough to break down the East Bengal FC defence, who kept their shape and tried to hit back with counter-attacks.

East Bengal FC introduced Cleiton Silva after the hour mark and the Brazilian posed a threat to the opposition defence on a couple of occasions. He first saw his free-kick narrowly sail over the bar, before firing a shot from close range that was blocked.

Despite their inability to add to their tally, East Bengal FC put no foot wrong in defence and held on to the win, continuing their unbeaten run in the tournament.