The group stage of the 2022 Durand Cup ended on Monday with six Indian Super League sides and two I-League sides progressing to the knockouts.
Odisha FC have enjoyed a happy reunion with coach Josep Gombau, winning all their group matches without conceding a single goal. While defending champions FC Goa crashed out after winning just one match, 2021 Durand Cup and I-League runners-up Mohammedan Sporting FC topped a tough Group A.
The biggest story of the group stage however, was Rajasthan United pipping Kolkata giants ATK Mohun Bagan and East Bengal to clinch a quarterfinal spot.
While Mohammedan and Bengaluru FC named full-strength squads, Jamshedpur and Goa opted to send their second teams for the tournament. Bengaluru made a few key signings leading up to the season, signing ATK Mohun Bagan duo Prabir Das and Roy Krishna, along with India defender Sandesh Jhingan and Spanish midfielder Javi Hernandez.
By virtue of being the strongest teams in the group, Mohammedan and Bengaluru were expected to clash for the top spot in the final group match encounter. However, Bengaluru let slip of a 2-0 half-time lead as a spirited FC Goa came away with a draw, giving Mohammedan a good chance of ending the league phase at the top.
After assuring themselves of a quarterfinal spot, Mohammedan and Bengaluru faced off for the top spot in the final match. Knowing that a draw would give them the top spot, Mohammedan took a 13th-minute lead and defended superbly to keep Sunil Chhetri and Co at bay.
However, with less than twenty minutes on the clock, Mohammedan were reduced to ten men and Bengaluru took full advantage with young striker Sivasakthi getting the equalizer in added time.
Bengaluru coach Simon Grayson rotated his squad heavily in the group stage trying to find the perfect balance. He would be pleased with the how quickly Krishna has formed a partnership with Chhetri while Sivasakthi has shown promise. The trio scored eight of the nine goals Bengaluru scored in the group stage.
|1|| Mohammedan (Q)||4||3||1||0||7||10|
|2|| Bengaluru FC (Q)||4||2||2||0||5||8|
|5||Indian Air Force||4||0||0||4||-8||0|
Group B saw the biggest upset of the group stages with the unheralded Rajasthan United qualifying for the quarterfinals ahead of Kolkata giants ATK Mohun Bagan and Emami East Bengal.
In their first match against ATK Mohun Bagan, Rajasthan United came from behind twice before snatching a 3-2 victory with a 95th minute winner. The I-league side followed it up with a 0-0 draw against East Bengal before succumbing to a 5-1 loss to table toppers Mumbai City FC.
On the final day of the group stage matches, Rajasthan beat Indian Navy to finish level on seven points with Mumbai and ATKMB. Mumbai (4) and Rajasthan (3) qualified for the knockouts having a superior head-to-head record against ATKMB (1).
Having seen his loan move from Chennaiyin FC made permanent, Lallianzuala Chhangte was the top scorer in the group stages with five goals while new signing Greg Stewart chipped in with three.
But for a bizarre 4-3 loss to East Bengal, Mumbai have looked solid and would relish their chances against Chennaiyin in the quarterfinal.
|1|| Mumbai City FC (Q)||4||2||1||1||6||7|
|2|| Rajasthan United (Q)||4||2||1||1||-1||7|
|3||ATK Mohun Bagan||4||2||1||1||2||7|
Having named a full-strength squad, ISL sides Hyderabad FC and Chennaiyin FC were expected to ease into the quarterfinals. And although they did end up qualifying, both sides came up against unexpected resistance from the Army Red team.
Having won all of their opening three matches, Hyderabad faced off against Army Red looking to finish on a high but were handed a first defeat by the plucky Armed forces side. Chennaiyin also faltered against the Army side having looked certain to have secured a come-from-behind 2-1 win only for the Army side to find the equaliser deep into stoppage time.
Despite picking up only one point from their first two matches, Chennaiyin managed to make it to the quarterfinal ahead of Army Red with easy wins over TRAU and NEROCA.
|1|| Hyderabad FC (Q)||4||3||0||1||6||9|
|2|| Chennaiyin FC (Q)||4||2||1||1||3||7|
Reunited with former coach Josep Gombau, Odisha FC ended the group stage with four wins and four clean sheets to lay down the gauntlet for the other sides. Odisha started their campaign with a 6-0 demolition of NorthEast United FC before securing a 2-0 win over a Kerala Blasters side missing its first-team players.
Odisha topped off the group stage with wins over Sudeva Delhi and Army Green. Though they were drawn in a relatively easy group, Odisha’s strong defensive showing bodes well for a side that boasted the joint-worst defensive record in the ISL last season.
Kerala Blasters got the second place with two wins and a draw, to go with the loss against Odisha FC.
|1||Odisha FC||4||4||0|| 0||12||12|
Top scorers in the group stage
|1||Lallianzuala Chhangte||Mumbai City FC||5|
|2||Bartholomew Ogbeche||Hyderabad FC||4|
|3||Saul Crespo||Odisha FC||3|
|3||Jerry Mawihmingthanga||Odisha FC||3|
|3||Sunil Chhetri||Bengaluru FC||3|
|3||Mohammed Aimen||Kerala Blasters||3|
|3||Sivasakthi Narayanan||Bengaluru FC||3|
|3||Greg Stewart||Mumbai City FC||3|
Mohammedan vs Kerala Blasters: 18:00 hrs, September 9
Odisha FC vs Bengaluru FC: 18:00 hrs, September 10
Mumbai City FC vs Chennaiyin FC: 18:00 hrs, September 11
Hyderabad FC vs Rajasthan United: 18:00 hrs, September 12
The Durand Cup quarterfinal matches will be played from September 9-12 at 18:00 hrs. The matches will be telecast on Sports18 1 and Sports18 Khel, and live streamed on Voot in India.