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New Delhi: East Bengal lost 2-1 to Syrian powerhouse Al Ittihad, its fifth straight defeat in the AFC Cup, in its penultimate group match in Aleppo, Syria.
The Kolkata side which fielded an inexperienced team, saw Beingaichho Beikhokhei pull one back seven minutes from time after Ahmmad Kalasi (14th minute) and Tamer Rasheed (58th) had put the Syrian side 2-0 up at the Aleppo International Stadium late on Tuesday night.
Taking the field without five senior players, including star striker Bhaichung Bhutia and captain Syed Rahim Nabi, East Bengal struggled in the first 45 minutes but raised its game in the second session to give a tough fight to the Syrian side.
With the win, Al Ittihad, which played in the elite AFC Champions League till 2008, strengthened its chances for a semifinal berth from Group D with 10 points from five matches while East Bengal is already out of the reckoning.
East Bengal ends its forgettable AFC Cup campaign with a match against Al Nejmeh of Lebanon at Yuba Bharati Krirangan Stadium in Kolkata on April 27.
Al Ittihad started strongly and produced the first chance of the game after seven minutes when Syrian international Abdul Fatah Al Agha's shot smashed against the left upright. The Syrian side continued to put pressure on the East Bengal defence and opened scoring in the 14th minute when Rasheed's free-kick was cleared by an East Bengal defender but only as far as Kalasi, who hit a first-time volley that beat goalkeeper Abhra Mondal all ends up.
Al Ittihad almost doubled the lead in the 25th minute but Rasheed's rasping drive was cleared for a corner by Mondal.
East Bengal produced its only effort of note in the first half just before the break when Sanju Pradhan's shot from outside the box missed the target by a few inches.
Al Ittihad continued where it had left off after the break and again came close to scoring in the 52nd minute as Rasheed's shot slammed the woodwork once again.
But the Al Ittihad striker was not to be denied in the 58th minute when he headed home a Kalasi cross from the right.
Syrian international Wael Ayan headed wide from Otobong Ene Edet's cross just after the hour mark but Al Ittihad took its foot off the gas in the final 20 minutes. East Bengal took advantage in the 83rd minute as Pradhan fed a pass for Beikhokhei, whose turn-and-shoot found the back of the net. That set up a nervous final few minutes for Al Ittihad as East Bengal pressed for a desperate equaliser but in vain. — PTI
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