Kolkata: The Calcutta Football League may have lost its position of pre-eminence but 80,000 spectators turned up at the Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday to show that a great rivalry it spawned is still alive and kicking.
It was the 4-0 scoreline that did quite not fit the script of what is almost always a tight, taut showdown. But, then, it was not the first time that Mohun Bagan had suffered such ignominy at the hands of East Bengal.
The red-and-golds, requiring only a draw to clinch a record-equaling sixth title, did it in style on Sunday, denying in a most emphatic manner their arch-rivals the consolation of souring that triumphant run.
Dong Hyun-Do, in his first season in the country, stamped his class again by curling a couple of free-kicks past 'keeper Shilton Paul in the first half. Mohammad Rafique and Rahul Bheke then nicely nodded home goals towards the end of the match as Mohun Bagan, reduced to 10 men by then, lost the plot completely.
"I have never experienced anything like this," Dong gushed after the match. "It must rank among the biggest Derbys of the world."
While the Korean recruit, leading the goal-scorers list with 12 from nine games, lived up to his pre-match billing as the biggest threat to the Bagan defence, the I-League champions weren't quite served by Dudu Omagbemi.
If the Nigerian star was looking for a comeback in the second half, it was cut short by the second booking he picked up five minutes into it. Dudu's send-off took the fight out of Mohun Bagan, and they were lucky to escape further embarrassment as East Bengal turned the heat on. A second-half goaline save by Sanjay Balmuchu underlined that only too well.
The Indian Football Association, custodian of the game in what used to be the 'Mecca of Indian football', may be tempted to pat its back on the 'success' of the season's first Kolkata Derby, but there is no denying that the state has slipped from its perch.
The game has lost ground and the pipeline for talent from the districts has dried up. Officials face a huge challenge in their efforts of a turnaround to past glory. With Mohun Bagan cornering the I-League and East Bengal determined to up the ante in response, it's just as well that the country's biggest football rivalry has not lost its intensity.
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