In a pulsating encounter that kept fans on the edge of their seats, FC Goa held NorthEast United FC to a thrilling 2-2 draw at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in the Durand Cup on Saturday.

The draw helped the Gaurs retain their top spot in Group D of the tournament, having now secured four points from two matches. The Highlanders, who have the same number of points from the same number of games, are in second position on goal difference.

Earlier in the day, FC Goa coach Benito Montalvo rang in as many as seven changes to the playing XI that started in Tuesday’s win over Shillong Lajong FC, as Udanta Singh made his debut for the Men in Orange. Dheeraj Singh, Seriton Fernandes, Aibanbha Dohling, Raynier Fernandes, Victor Rodriguez and Carlos Martinez also got their first starts of the season against Juan Pedro Benali’s men.

The action-packed contest kicked off with NorthEast United taking the lead in the 24th minute. Manvir Singh capitalised on a defensive mishap by FC Goa as he pounced on an attempt to clear by Dheeraj Singh, and the ball ricocheted off the forward’s leg and nestled into the back of the net.

Determined to claw their way back into the game, FC Goa intensified their attacks and were rewarded for their efforts in the fourth minute of added time, just seconds before the half-time whistle.

Rowllin Borges showcased his clinical finishing skills as he met a perfectly placed corner-kick delivered by Brandon Fernandes and unleashed a thunderous first-time strike that found the roof of the net, leaving the opposition goalkeeper Mirshad Michu with no chance.

The second half resumed with both sides eager to gain the upper hand. NorthEast United exhibited resolute defending and swift counter-attacks, while FC Goa continued to press forward, seeking to capitalise on their attacking momentum.

In a dramatic turn of events, the Highlanders edged ahead once again in the 52nd minute. Sandesh Jhingan, while attempting to clear a menacing cross from Manvir Singh on the right flank, inadvertently directed the ball into his own net, and the unfortunate own-goal handed the home side a 2-1 advantage.

However, FC Goa showcased their fighting spirit and determination to salvage a point from the encounter. Their persistence paid off in the 80th minute when Noah Sadaoui won a penalty after being fouled inside the box.

The Moroccan himself stepped up to take the spot-kick and maintained his composure to confidently convert, levelling the scoreline once again at 2-2.

As the clock wound down, both teams pushed for a late winner, but some astute defending and goalkeeping denied any further goals.

Courtesy of this drawn encounter, the Gaurs’ hopes of qualifying for the knockouts of the Durand Cup have taken a slight downshift. They will, however, secure a berth in the quarter-finals provided they register a win against Downtown Heroes in their final group stage clash on Wednesday and in doing so, also maintain a better goal difference than NorthEast United.

East Bengal FC claim first Kolkata Derby victory in four years

Nandhakumar Sekar’s strike helped East Bengal FC get the better of Mohun Bagan Super Giant in a thrilling Durand Cup game at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan, in Kolkata, on Saturday.

The Red & Golds not only registered a hard-fought win in the first Kolkata Derby of the season, but also emerged winners in the derby for the first time since 2019.   

The opening half turned out goalless but was intense, with chances coming in the way for both teams.

Armando Sadiku almost put Mohun Bagan SG ahead in the second minute, when he attempted a long ranger, but his shot flew wide.

Moments later, Jordan Elsey had the chance to give East Bengal FC the lead. Harmanjot Khabra’s free-kick found the Australian, who directed his header straight to Vishal Kaith.

The keepers from both sides were kept busy on their toes as both Mohun Bagan SG and East Bengal FC created numerous chances throughout the opening half.

However, it was Sekar who broke the deadlock in the second half with a well-taken goal after a counter-attack from East Bengal FC. The winger drove to the edge of the box before cutting inside and bending his shot into the far corner. Vishal Kaith could not manage to parry the shot away despite a full-stretch dive.

The Mariners brought on Dimitri Petratos and Jason Cummings in the second half in search of the equaliser. Mohun Bagan SG gained control of the game despite conceding the goal, but were ineffective in the final third.

The best chance for Juan Ferrando’s side came during the 80th minute when Anirudh Thapa’s pass took a deflection and fell towards Cummings. The Australian, who was shooting from a tight angle, scuffed his shot wide.

East Bengal FC will aim to keep their chances of reaching the next round alive as they take on Punjab FC in their final group game on Wednesday.