It’s been 17 years since East Bengal lifted the ASEAN Cup in Indonesia back in 2003. East Bengal club has a magnificent history against international opponents and left an impression on the several continental competitions in which it partakes inaugurally.
East Bengal wrote history by dismantling Thailand’s BEC Tero Sasana 3-1 in the LG ASEAN Cup final on July 26 of 2003 at Jakarta. The century-old club became the first Indian team to lift any officially recognized foreign major tournament trophy. Eleven teams from ten countries participated in the 2003 tournament, with East Bengal joining India as an invitational squad (invited by the Leicester City).
The club together under the mentorship of Subhash Bhowmick, the Kolkata giants did the impossible at Jakarta. They defeated some of the ASEAN region’s leading clubs back in 2003.
The Road to the 2003 ASEAN Cup Finals:
The Kolkata side was off to a disappointing start to their season, as they slipped 0-1 in the opening match to the Thai giants, BEC Tero Sasana.
East Bengal came back stronger. On their road to glory they dominated Armed Forces FC Philippines by 6-0 in their second match. Indian icon Bhaichung Bhutia scored all six goals making him the first Indian to achieve a double hat-trick in international football.
The Red & Golds overcame the top two Indonesian clubs in the knockout-stages of the ASEAN Cup tournament. They defeated Persita Tangerang 2-1 in the quarter-finals. East Bengal FC moved on to a glorious win against the hosts Petreokimia Putra by 7-6 on penalties after drawing 1-1 in a fierce head-to-head battle in the semi-finals after going down to 10-men (Mahesh Gawli was sent-off).
The 2003 ASEAN Cup Finals (East Bengal FC vs BEC Tero Sasana):
The final was indeed a high-pressure window of opportunity for the Red & Golds, as they ran up against the undefeated side, BEC Tero. For East Bengal, the opening match disappointment also dwelled in the thought processes of the East Bengal players.
Indian national team had written history 41 years earlier at – Gelora Bung Karno Main Stadium. The same site when they beat South Korea 2-1 to capture the gold medal at the Asian Games.
In the penultimate finale at Jakarta East Bengal’s squad (3-5-2 formation): Sandip Nandy, Sur Kumar Singh, M. Suresh, Deepak Mondal (S. Malsawmtulunga), Suley Musah (Captain), Sasthi Duley, Bijen Singh, Douglas D’Silva, Alvito D’Cunha, Bhaichung Bhutia and Mike Okoro.
Mike Okoro give the Red & Golds the lead via Alvito D’Cunha’s brilliant through ball in the first half of the 2003 ASEAN Cup final. Bhaichung Bhutia extended the lead to 2-0 early in the second half. In the 58th minute, BEC Tero drew one back reducing the deficit to half. The 70th minute Alvito D’Cunha’s brilliant thumping shot from the edge of the box decided the fate of the game resulting in East Bengal’s historic ASEAN Cup triumph.
The Impact on Indian Football:
The Head Coach Subhas Bhowmick played a huge role in the historic achievement. The thoughtful strategy and dream of Subash Bhowmick helped East Bengal secure the ASEAN Cup 2003.
The victory brought Indian football under the limelight. The greeting they enjoyed after the success in Kolkata on their arrival was spectacular. At the Kolkata airport, roughly 15,000 people turned up. People had assembled on both sides of the street as the iconic East Bengal squad were slowly headed from the airport to the Salt Lake stadium.
The Kolkata giants is one of the most prestigious clubs in India. They captured eight Federation Cup championships, three Indian Super Cup championships, a remarkable 29 IFA Shield titles. An unprecedented 16 Durand Cup titles and 10 Rovers cups, rendering the team one of Indian football’s most successful.
The ASEAN Cup triumph of East Bengal FC encouraged Indian football clubs to compete in foreign competitions and do well. The magnificent success of East Bengal laid the foundation for Indian football’s future. We Indians expect to fly on those riches and become a member of the footballing world.