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                      Esqueda 75′



Well, the I-League title race will go down right to the wire for the third season running! East Bengal managed to weather the storm and grind through a stubborn Minerva Punjab side, gaining a big win at the end. It was the brilliance of Enrique Esqueda and the never-say-die attitude of East Bengal which gave them the win in the end, as they’re now just a point behind Chennai City FC with one game to go. It’s all set to be a Super Saturday in the I-League when Chennai City host Minerva Punjab and East Bengal travel to Gokulam Kerala to decide who will end up as winners. The league leaders need a win to solidify their title win, but if they drop points and East Bengal win against Gokulam Kerala, it’ll be Alejandro  Menendez’s side which scripts a sensational league victory. Khel Now will be covering the title decider day extensively. This is Uttiyo Sarkar signing off for Khel Now, thanks and goodbye Ladies and Gentlemen!

90+4′ No they can’t. The ball is cleared and the whistle is blown. East Bengal gets a huge win!

90+3′ Minerva Punjab get one last roll of the dice after a foul is committed by Kassim Aidara. Can they get one back?

90+2′ The Warriors try to lodge one last chance at goal by moving brightly through the right, but Roland’s cross is held onto by Dagar. 

90+1 Three minutes of added time is announced. 

89′ CLOSE! East Bengal almost make it 2-0. Brandon is sent through on goal in the right-wing, allowing him to seek out a great low cross to Rohlupuia, who can’t meet the ball properly and allows Arshdeep to latch onto it. 

87′ Minerva Punjab move in numbers through the right, with Al Amna allowing a cross in which is cleared off for a corner by Salam Ranjan. The corner itself is a dangerous one, with Dagar failing to collect it at once and only scrambling to hold onto it in his second opportunity. 

86′ The Red and Gold Brigaders are just trying to tick the clock down now by maintaining possession. They receive a corner after a good string of passes to get a chance at adding another. 

82′ East Bengal’s hero Enrique Esqueda is subbed, with academy prodigy P.C Rohlupuia coming on instead. Alejandro definitely wants to keep the Mexican fit for their final clash against Gokulam Kerala. 

81′ CLOSE! Khalif is the one to take the free-kick he earned and he forces a fantastic save from Rakshit Dagar, who dives smartly to his left to keep out the thunderous shot. Great stop!

80′ Minerva Punjab get another free-kick from promising range after Khalif is brought down by Aidara. 

78′ CHANCE! It’s Minerva Punjab who almost answer back immediately. Substitute Roland Bilala makes a great run forward after receiving a long-ball and tries to chip over the onrushing Dagar, only to see his shot go over. 

75′ GOALLL! ESQUEDA HAS MADE THE BREAKTHROUGH!! A fantastic strike from the Mexican, who finds the ball after a series of headers and strikes a beautiful left-foot finish which goes past the onrushing Arshdeep. 1-0!

73′ OOF! East Bengal almost get one out of nothing. Samad Ali Mallick recovers the ball just outside the box and lets rip a thunderous shot which forces a fantastic save from Arshdeep. Close call!

71′ Brandon Vanlalremdika is coming on for Antonio Dovale! Can the youngster make an impact to keep  his side’s title dreams alive?

70′ Minerva almost sneak in one through a dangerous corner, which meets a header but thankfully for East Bengal goes wide. They manage to clear the danger for now, but the Warriors are looking hungry for a winner. 

65′ OOF! East Bengal almost get in a goal, after a fantastic looping cross is sent from the left by Lalram Chullova. However, it evades both Esqueda and Danmawia to go out. 

64′ Minerva Punjab make their second substitution. Prabhjot Singh comes on for Moiundddin, who’s been quite inefficient today. 

63′ CLOSE! Samad almost makes instant impact as he receives the ball from Danmawia and finds space to put in a lovely cross which meets Esqueda’s header, but Arshdeep does well to hold onto it. 

62′ Samad Ali Mallick comes on for Kamalpreet Singh. Can he help make the breakthrough for the Red and Gold Brigaders?

60′ CLOSE! Juan Barraso decides to flick it towards Akash Sangwan at the far past rather than going direct and the defender’s header is flicked towards goal, before Acosta clears it for a corner. 

59′ A free-kick is awarded just outside the box to Minerva Punjab after a reckless tackle from Lalrindika Ralte brings down Al Amna. Can Minerva make something of this?

56′ Well, Minerva Punjab do put the ball into the back of the net, but are adjourned offside. Barraso’s free-kick is met by Caicedo’s powerful header into goal, but the defender was miles offside there. 

55′ CHANCE! East Bengal keeps piling the pressure after the corner is initially cleared. A great cross is played into the middle to meet Esqueda’s header, which goes straight to Arshdeep’s hands. 

54′ A nice move is crafted by East Bengal, when Santos plays a ball to Lalram Chullova on the right. The right-back gives it back to him, before he plays in an incisive pass towards the box, which is cleared for a corner. Meanwhile, Makhan Chote come son for Sreyas

52′ Enrique is again at the thick of things, moving forward with the ball before laying it to Danmawia Ralte on the right. The winger gets space to send in an inviting cross, but instead blasts it wide for Minerva to get possession. 

50′ A lively start to the second half sees both teams moving forward with urgency! The hosts create a nice move when Barraso plays a great pass forward to Sreyas, who is blocked off by Acosta. Minerva move forward agian seconds later, but Al Amna’s shot from range goes skying over. 

48′ Minerva answer back with a move of their own! They move through the left, as Akash Sangwan roams forward to put in a nice cross, which is met with a weak header from Al Amna and goes wide. 

47′ BIG CHANCE! East Bengal start the half with all guns blazing, moving well through the right. Laldanmawia Ralte drives in from the right after receiving a great pass from Esqueda, as he tricks past one man before taking a shot which goes just over. Nice start!

46′ AND THE SECOND HALF KICKS-OFF! Minerva Punjab will now attack from the right to left and start the half impressively. 

HALF-TIME ANALYSIS: It’s been quite a cagey affair so far. While East Bengal have enjoyed the lions share possession, they haven’t been able to breach Minerva’s defence as much as they wanted to. There’s been a handful of chances, with Juan Quero’s shot which rattled the bar being Minerva’s best. East Bengal were also unlucky to see Santos’ header hit the bar and go out, but need to be more incisive and creative to break open this stubborn defence of the defending champions. Second half action will be back in a few minutes. Stay tuned everyone!

45′ One minute of added time is announced. Meanwhile, Enrique Esqueda takes an ambitious effort from a long way out, only to see his shot go blazing over the bar. 

43′ The hosts try to move forward through Al Amna, who drives forward and plays a long-ball to Barraso, who’s dispossessed with a great challenge from  Kamalpreet who clears danger once again to frustrate his former employers. 

40′ SANTOS STRUCKS THE BAR! A fantastic cross is played on from Dovale onto the lurking Santos onto the box. The striker’s head meets the cross before Arshdeep can catch it, but the powerful headers hits the post and goes out. Unlucky!

39′ A beautifully crafted move from Minerva Punjab! The hosts move really well through the left, when Barraso plays in a ball to the middle which is flicked onto the box, but Kamalpreet makes a brilliant clearance before Moinuddin can latch onto it!

37′ East Bengal get a rare counter-attack when Dovale recovers possession and urges them forward. He plays the ball to Danmawia on the right, with the winger sending in a looping cross which finds nobody in the box. 

35′ Mahmoud Al Amna is brought down through a crunching challenge from former team-mate Kassim Aidara. Ranjit Bajaj isn’t happy, showing his emotions on the touch-line after the strong challenge. 

33′ Play has been stopped for a while after Sreyas V.g goes down after suffering a knock. However, he seems to be okay and should continue.

31′ CLOSE! MINERVA ALMOST MAKE THE BREAKTHROUGH! A defensive lapse from Lalram Chullova allows Juan Quero Barraso to get a one-on-one chance with Dagar, as his shot strikes the posts and goes out. Unlucky!

30′ Santos takes the free-kick which strikes a Minerva defender inside the box. The Spaniard is asking for a penalty for an alleged hand-ball, but referee Om Prakash Thakur is having none of it. 

29′ A free-kick is awarded to East Bengal from just outside the box on the left, after Arshdeep ends up handling the ball outside while trying to collect  it. Can East Bengal get the breakthrough?

28′ Esqueda has been the best aspect of East Bengal’s attack so far with his brilliant touches and eagerness in taking shots from afar. Can he make the breakthrough for East Bengal? Sound off in the comments. 

26′ CLOSE! Enrique Esqueda falls back deep to receive possession and upon getting some space, he takes a vicious shot which whizzes narrowly past the goal.  

23′ The visitors are piling on the pressure, but being frustrated in the final third. Minerva are fine to let them have the possession, but doing really well of closing down room for their men in the final third and restricting them from doing anything dangerous 

20′ Antonio Dovale and Kamalpreet Singh play a lot of passes among themselves on the left hand-side, but the Spaniard fails to find that through ball to break open their defence. Kamalpreet tries a cross in, but it’s cleared by Caicedo and Danmawia can’t do much even after recovering the ball. 

17′ OOF! Laldanmawia shows impressive intelligence and ambition after seeing Arshdeep out of his goal-line, taking a shot a long way out which is saved really well by the Minerva keeper to save himself from embarrassment. 

16′ Minerva Punjab churn up their first chance of the game! The long kick from Arshdeep is flicked onto the box by Al Amna, but Dagar does well to come forward and collect it before Moinuddin could pounce on it. 

14′ East Bengal are showing patience with their build-up play, but signs of frustration is evident as Jaime Santos Colado tries a shot from way out, only to see it go well wide of the target. 

11′ The game has slowed down in recent minutes. Minerva Punjab have maintained a solid defensive line, not allowing East Bengal to hurt them with their passing style. The visitors are still in firm control of the game, but can’t make a breakthrough into goal. 

8′ First real chance for East Bengal! After Minerva fail to clear the corner, the ball is played to Lalram Chullova who finds Jonny Acosta free in the far post, but the defender’s shot goes skying high only for him to be judged offside. 

7′ East Bengal are working through the wings really well! This time they work through the right, using the pace of Laldanmawia Ralte, who goes past his man and sends in a low cross which is barely sent out for a corner by Jorge Caicedo. 

5′ Chaotic defending from Minerva Punjab almost allows East Bengal a sniff at goal! The Warriors give away the ball outside their own box, with Esqueda latching onto possession and running through the left before crossing it to Dovale, who can’t really get a strikee off his team-mates cross. 

3′ East Bengal have started attacking right from the get-go, trying to use their prowess through the wings to work in their favor. They seem to be working in a 4-4-2 formation, with Enrique Esqueda and Jaime Santos playing up top. 

1′ AND WE KICKOFF! The game starts off with East Bengal attacking from the right to the left side of the field.  

1:55 PM: A fine day for a good football match here at the Tau Devi Lal Stadium in Panchkula. The teams are coming out into the field, taking part of the pre-match rituals. Kick-off is just a few minutes away. Stay tuned, folks!

1:50 PM: East Bengal will also be looking to enact revenge for the humiliating 1-0 loss Minerva Punjab dealt them at the Salt Lake Stadium earlier this season. The two clubs have created a discreet rivalry in the past few seasons, as multiple former Minerva Punjab players also return to Pachkula to oust the team with whom they won the I-League last season. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Al Amna also plays against the side he led to victory many times last season. 

1:45 PM: The equations are quite simple for East Bengal. It’s a do-or-die match to keep their hopes of winning an inaugural I-League title alive after watching title rivals Chennai City fall short against Churchill Brothers. They could move one point behind the league leaders and set up a grand finish to the I-League title race, while Ranjit Bajaj’s Minerva Punjab look to spoil their fun and help Chennai seal the deal despite not even playing. 

1:40 PM: The big news from the game is that Borja Fernandez is not in the East Bengal lineup, as he’s suspended for picking up his 4th yellow card against Real Kashmir. Salam Ranjan Singh comes in, so does Antonio Dovale who replaces Brandon Vanlelremdika. Minerva Punjab have also made 3 changes from their win against NEROCA, with Arshdeep Singh, Moinuddin Khan and Sreyas V coming in for Nidhin, Makhan Winkle Chote and Prabhjot Singh. 

1:35 PM: The Starting lineups are in!

Minerva Punjab: Arshdeep(GK), Akashdeep, Arashpreet, Caicedo, Alhassan, Barrasco, Al Amna(C), Amandeep, Sangwan, Moinuddin, Sreyas. 

Subs: Nidhin Lal, Souvik, Chote, Prabhjot, Bilala, Harminder, Zacharie.

East Bengal: Dagar(GK), Chullova, Salam Ranjan, Acosta, Kamalpreet, Aidara, Lalrindika(C), Laldanmawia, Santos, Dovale, Enrique. 

Subs: Mirshad, Manoj, Samad, Hanghal, Rohlupuia, Brandon, Gagandeep. 

ALSO READ: Talking Points: Did Enrique Esqueda’s injury play a role in derailing East Bengal’s title challenge?

1:30 PM: Hello everyone! It is a wonderful atmosphere here in the Tau Devi Lal Stadium. Minerva Punjab and East Bengal are all set to lock horns in what could prove to be a deciding match for the away side in this title race. The weather is near to perfect and spectators are coming in to experience the game. This is your host Uttiyo Sarkar, and I hope you enjoy the game with me.