Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan and Goa's Sporting Clube de Goa made it to the semi-finals in the Osian's Durand Cup football championship after registering identical 1-0 victories in Delhi on Thursday.
Bagan literally left it till the last minute against Air India when Surajit Bose found the goal that helped the team top Group 'I' in the quarter-final league.
Sporting made it to the last four courtesy a penalty conversion by Dudu Macpherlin in the 36th minute that sent them through at the expense of defending National Football League and Federation Cup champions Mahindra United.
A draw would have been enough for Biswajit Bhattacharya's team and it looked for a long time that he would be satisfied with a point. But Mohun Bagan were not prepared to risk losing the game, as a 0-1 defeat would have put them in a draw of lots with Mahindra.
The game had several heated moments and referee Ashok Ghosh seemed to lose control of the proceedings at crucial moments.
Bagan relied heavily on Brazilian Jose Ramirez Barreto, but he was marked closely by the Air India defenders, who did not hesitate getting physical with him.
Mumbai team Air India had only pride to play for, having lost their first two matches in the quarter-final league, and coach Bimal Ghosh put his three foreign recruits on the bench, giving his fringe players a chance to impress.
Bagan squandered an early chance when a dangerous cross from the left by Lalkamal Bhowmik was not collected properly by Air India 'keeper Ethesham Ahmed. However, Chinmoy Sarkar fired wide.
But that was a rare opportunity for Bagan and Bhattacharya brought in Dulal Biswas and Surajit Bose at the start of the second half for Sarkar and Dipendu Biswas.
That brought some penetration in the attack and Bagan came close to scoring in the 63rd minute when a header from Surajit was blocked by Ahmed before tipping over a looping effort from Bhowmik.
At the other end, a long shot from Narendra Metei was acrobatically saved by custodian Sangram Mukherji.
Bagan were thwarted again when a Bhowmik corner found Barreto's head, but his effort was blocked by teammate Suman Dutta.
But it was getting increasingly clear that the Brazilian was struggling to cope with the constant physical attention of Air India defenders and sighting a slight limp in his star player's gait, Bhattacharya replaced him with Ayan Choudhury.
That proved the masterstroke, as in the 90th minute, Choudhury's cross into the six-yard box was headed in powerfully by Surajit Bose, who met the ball before Ahmed.
The fact that the goal was created by two of his substitutes must have gladdened the coach's heart.
"We were always going for a win. Teams of the stature of Mohun Bagan can never be satisfied with a draw," Bhattacharya said.
But he expressed dissatisfaction with the officiating.
"The referee spoilt the game. He was not punishing the fouls committed on my players but was booking them when they reacted," he said.
Sporting Clube take Mahindra in their stride
Sporting was the brighter of the two teams at the start and denied by the woodwork within the first 15 minutes.
In the sixth minute, a long-ranger from Nigerian Earnest Jeremiah came off the upright. A few minutes later, a cross from Nicolau Borges was headed on to the crossbar by Nicolas Rodrigues and Joe Rodrigues fired the rebound over the target.
Mahindra were playing without several of their first choice players, who are in the team for the Doha Asian Games, and it showed.
The breakthrough came when defender Peter Siddiqui was adjudged by referee P Basker to have handled the ball inside the penalty area. Dudu calmly scored, sending custodian Amit Nandy the wrong way.
Dudu and Jeremiah combined well and could have doubled the lead before the break when the former received a long pass from defence inside the Mahindra's box and passed to his compatriot, who shot wide.
Dudu was to blame a minute later when he collected a chip from Borges, beat the off-side trap, but shot over from inside the area despite having a free attempt.
For Mahindra, the off-colour S Venkatesh found rival custodian Louis Barreto when he had the target in his sights.
After the interval, Sporting, who needed to avoid defeat to go through, strengthened their defence and were content to play on the counter-attack. They were still dangerous as the NFL champions went for an equaliser, but could not find the net.
Mahindras had one decent chance in the second period when a cross from substitute Ajayan was not connected properly by French-Portuguese import Filipe Azevedo. He, along with the other foreigners -- Yusif Yakubu and Tony Menezes -- failed to impress for their club.
Sporting's Nigeria coach Clifford Chukuwama was satisfied with the result but felt the margin could have been bigger.
"We missed three goal-scoring chances in the first half, and in the second, we concentrated more on defence," he said.
His counterpart Derrick Pereira said the penalty decision was harsh.
"The ball hit the hand rather than the other way round," he claimed.
He said the hectic schedule, which required teams to play on alternate days, had resulted in his team lacking punch today.