Substitute striker Navin Hela netted the lone goal as West Bengal booted Delhi out of the 67th Santosh Trophy national football championship at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium here on Sunday.
Playing their first match of the championship, former champions struggled to create proper openings until two substitutes came together in the 84th minute to help them garner full points from the Group D fixture and book a spot in the quarterfinal league.
Railways – who beat Delhi in the inaugural group match – have also advanced, alongside Bengal. The two teams are slated to meet on Tuesday to decide the group winner.
The introduction of Francis Xavier, to the right side of midfield in place of Mohammad Muktar, added a bit of dynamism to the Bengal attacks, though it came far too late to lead to as many goals as the 31-time champions would have liked. Having made a few threatening runs down the flank, Xavier for once found the perfect weight and swerve on a low cross for Hela to take it past the onrushing goalkeeper, Vikrant Sharma, and place it into an empty net. That was something for their coach Rabindranath Ghosh to cherish, having got three points out of a match, of few goal-scoring opportunities, that seemed destined for a goalless draw.
After Bengal started off on a positive note, Delhi got back to stretch the favourites’ defence with their share of long balls. The midfield led by captain Monu Choudhary worked hard to negate the rival midfield where Jagannath Saha showed some deft touches. Bengal preferred to push up through the flanks but the crosses lacked the cutting edge. On the one occasion a cross was on target, skipper and former international Dipendu Biswas could not get enough purchase on a free header to a sharp delivery from Muktar. Later, Biswas made space inside the box, only to curl the ball past the far post.
Delhi had a sight on the Bengal citadel twice. In the 12th minute, Yogesh Prasad got his head to a cross but the well-directed effort was saved by an alert Bengal defence.