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Bengal champs for 30th time
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#1
What a way Denson Devadas took the monkey off Bengal's back!

The Chirag United midfielder's magical double guided Bengal to a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Punjab in the Santosh Trophy final at the Salt Lake Stadium on Sunday and helped the hosts end their 11-year wait for the championship.

It was title No. 30 for the tournament's most successful team and the maiden one for coach Shabbir Ali. After the son of the soil rule was put into place, this was also Bengal's first triumph.

This was a victory for Bengal's resilience, for their steadfast refusal to go out with a whimper and nobody represented those qualities in the side better than the 25-year-old Keralite. When Balwant Singh handed Punjab the lead in the 31st minute, it looked like a sense of disenchantment was about to grip the hosts once more.

Here was a test of Bengal's ambition. Did they have the deep desire to haul themselves back into the game? They responded with a yes as Devadas masterminded a spectacular fightback.

His glancing header off a superb delivery from the flag-kick by captain Snehashish Chakraborty levelled brought them back into the game. Then 12 minutes from time he produced the most magically defining moment of the game.

His exchange of little passes with Jayanta Sen and Robin Singh around the rivals half-line gave little inkling to Punjab about what was coming. Then, from his left-foot emerged a rasping volley that went in leaving Punjab custodian Paramjit Singh transfixed.

With their nose ahead, Bengal were back to whether they belonged in Indian football. It could have easily been Punjab's day too, but Jagir Singh's strategy of deciding to sit on the lead and relying on breaks didn't bear fruit this time.

Bengal began on the right note. But instead of letting their hopes for early ascendancy bloom, a bloomer by striker Tarif Ahmed almost threatened to spoil the mood. If he benefited from Shabbir's refusal to abandon his two-striker policy, the ONGC player did precious little to justify the coach's faith in him.

It was reflected in the way he squandered the 18th-minute opportunity. Robin Singh's delivery from right was merely asking for a simple finish but all Tarif did was letting header hit the side-post from inside six-yard box.

Bengal's agony turned double-folded 12 minutes later when Punjab took the lead against the run of play. Balwant's potshot from distance first effected a diving save from Abhra Mondal. In a continuation of the move, Rahul Kumar flung a deep cross from the right but this time, the Bengal keeper rushed out and clutched air as Balwant header found the back of the net.

Shabbir freed Devadas from his defensive role, letting him form the triangle with two wingers Snehashis and Gouranga Dutta and providing more variety to their line of attack. With Robin being a constant threat and Snehashis' touch of class decorating the wing, Bengal surged with renewed energy and enterprise and in search for a final flourish.



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