Kuwait City, Oct 2 — Goals by Uga Okpara and Lalrindika Ralte could not prevent East Bengal’s 2-4 defeat against Kuwait SC in the first-leg of the semi-final of the AFC Cup here Tuesday night but they could be valuable for the visitors during the second-leg to be held in Kolkata, Oct 22.
It was a dominating performance by the hosts at the Kuwait Sports Club Stadium as Issam Jemaa continued his hot scoring form in the AFC Cup, bagging a first-half brace.
The Tunisian striker beat the East Bengal offside trap to open the scoring at Kuwait SC Stadium after 17 minutes and made it 3-0 in the 33rd minute with his ninth goal in three games, shortly after Waleed Ali had extended the home side’s lead.
Chadi Hammami added a fourth for the hosts early in the second half but they took their foot off the pedal and paid the price as the visitors clawed back two goals with a thumping header by Okpara in the 65th minute and a fine finish by substitute Ralte three minutes from time.
While they were not enough to prevent East Bengal from suffering their first defeat in this season’s AFC Cup, the two away goals could yet prove crucial when the sides meet in the return match in Kolkata later this month.
Both sides had their chances early on with East Bengal’s Nigerian striker Chidi Edeh firing straight at goalkeeper Musab Al Kanderi from just inside the box while Rogerio de Assis Coutinho, better known as Rogerinho, forced an excellent save out of Gurpreet Singh with a stinging shot from distance.
The Indian side tried to play a high line in defence but their plan would backfire in the 17th minute when they were caught completely square on a long ball by Hammami to Jemaa, who found himself in acres of space as he easily slotted the opener past Singh.
East Bengal had an opportunity to draw level when Edeh set up South Sudan international James Moga, who shot just wide.
But the hosts would pull away with two quick goals just after the half-hour mark.
Waleed Ali made it 2-0 in the 31st minute when he ran on to a neat through ball by Rogerio and fired the ball into the top right corner of the net.
And just two minutes later, Abdullah Al Buraiki did well to keep the ball in play on the right byline before squaring it to Sami Al Sanea who fired in a low diagonal shot that was well stopped by Singh but parried straight to Jemaa who easily slotted in his 15th goal of the tournament.
Jemaa went close to completing his hat-trick just a minute into the second half when he just failed to connect with Al Buraiki’s cross from the right.
But it would be 4-0 in the 47th minute after a howler by Singh. The East Bengal goalkeeper was caught in two minds as a cross was floated in by Jarah Al Ateeqi and he ended up weakly knocking the ball down in his six-yard box with one hand for the onrushing Hammami to fire the ball into the net.
Kuwait SC looked set to put the tie out of reach but the visitors sparked to life after the introduction of Ralte who fired a warning shot with an effort from distance that just cleared the crossbar.
The substitute would have hand in East Bengal’s first goal, floating in a corner from the left that was met by Okpara’s powerful header into the back of the net.
Cavin Lobo went close with a low shot from the top of the box that flew just wide before Dinka crafted a fine second for his side, taking down the ball on the left of the Kuwait SC box and cutting inside Al Sanea before lashing a fierce right-footed shot past Al Kanderi.