Dempo Sports Club began the season with a comprehensive 4-1 victory over Air India while defending champions Mahindra United were held to a goalless draw by new I-League entrants Lajong FC in the 122nd ONGC Durand Cup football tournament in Delhi on Monday.
Dempo, who had six India internationals in their ranks, scored through Peter Carvalho (29th minute), Ranty Martins (60th), Sunil Chhetri (68th) and Roberto Mendes Silva (89th) before N D Opara reduced the margin for Air India in the 90th minute under floodlights at the Ambedkar Stadium.
The formidable side from Goa needs just a draw from their next match against Army XI on September 17 to make it to the semi-final as toppers from Group III.
On the other hand, Air India ended their quarter-final league engagements with three points, collected from a 3-0 win over Army XI in their first match, and they have to pray that lowly Army XI beats Dempo by a big margin to entertain hopes of progressing to the last four stage.
Only group winners make it to the semi-finals.
With two top foreigners in the domestic circuit Ranty and Roberto Silva Mendes -- in their ranks, formidable Dempo dominated for most part of the match though they lacked the usual flair as they were playing top-flight football with new combinations for the first time in the new season.
Dempo, who rested India players Climax Lawrence and Clifford Miranda utilised most of the chances that came their way while Air India could create only a few as they rarely penetrated the Dempo defence, manned by India players Mahesh Gawli, Anwar Ali and Samir Naik.
Tall midfielder Carvalho rose over his marker to connect a Nicolas Borges corner from the right into the Air India to enable his side go to the breather 1-0.
The only half chance Air India got in the first session was in the 25th minute when Dada Habeel made a feeble header off a cross from Ravinder Singh from the right.
The second goal at the hour mark also resulted from a corner from the left with Ranty volleying a low ball deflected from an Air India defender.
Chhetri made it 3-0 and scored his first goal for Dempo by converting a spot kick eight minutes later after Roberto Mended was blocked from taking a shot by an Air India defender inside the box.
Air India could have reduced the margin in the 71st minute but Kailash Patil shot in a hurry from close range off a pass by striker ND Opara.
Roberto Mendes completed the tally with a thunderous free kick from just outside the box just a minute before full-time.
Earlier, defending champions Mahindra were held to a goalless by Lajong FC in a Group IV quarter-final league match.
Playing in their maiden Durand Cup, Lajong FC from Shillong came up with a creditable performance to deny their fancied rivals three points. They, in fact, dominated the second half though the first session belonged to Mahindra.
Mahindra had their first look at the Lajong goal in the 16th minute, when a free kick by right winger Steven Dias sailed over the bar by a few inches.
Four minutes later, they got another chance when defender Denzil Franco passed the ball to Dias, whose shot from outside the box hit the crossbar after touching the hands of Lajong goalkeeper Gumpe Rime.
Lajong FC players then got their act together and in 28th minute, Roming Thanga made a fine move from the left flank and passed the ball to striker James Gbilee, who misfired the shot.
In 36th minute, Mahindra got a golden opportunity to take the lead, when Paresh Shivalkar dodged past a Lajong defender and even the goalkeeper, but his shot hit the left post.
The second half saw Lajong players unleashing an attacking game and in the 48th minute, James Gbille almost found the net but an alert Mahindra's goalkeeper saved the chance.
In 53rd minute, Gbille was again in possession after beating a Mahindra defender with fine footwork, but his shot from inside the box hit the upright.
Five minutes later, Gbille made a fine move from the right flank and passed the ball to midfielder Daniel Badami, whose shot missed the right post by a whisker.
Both the teams tried hard for a winner in the remaining period of the match, but failed.