A Blues win could mark Indian football’s very own 1983 moment…
Each weekend sees an average Indian football fan glued to their TV sets as they lap up all the excitement from the world of European football. However, this Saturday will be one where each of these fans will have a common voice as Bengaluru FC, the first Indian team to make it to the Final of the AFC Cup, will take on the Air Force Club from Iraq. For time immemorial, India has flattered to deceive in the football world. The “Sleeping Giant” of football, as former FIFA President Sepp Blatter termed it, India has always been a country where European football dominated conversations in talk shows and discussions among friends.
BFC have finally brought about winds of change with their advancement to the continental showpiece. The Steelmen disposed of reigning champions Johor Darul Tazim in the semi-finals and now have the belief that they can go all the way.
“Bengaluru reaching the AFC Cup Final in the host country of the 2022 World Cup and hopefully winning it, has signalled the beginning of Indian football as an Asian power,” said Bengaluru FC and India captain Sunil Chhetri. The star striker went on to call this game the most important match of his career.
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As per tournament rules, the Final would have originally been hosted at the home ground of one of the 2 Finalists. However amidst security concerns in Iraq, the game is being played in Doha, which hosts a vast number of Indian expats, who will no doubt make their presence felt during the match. It should also be noted that home advantage has been of little consequence in previous showpieces as Uzbek side Nasaf beat Kuwait SC 2-1 in the 2011 Final in Karshi. In fact, the last four editions of the tournament have seen the designated away side emerge victorious.
What adds to the spice of this game is that the Final is fresh ground for both the teams. Air Force Club are playing in their first ever AFC Cup and Bengaluru in their first ever AFC Cup final having only made their second appearance in the tournament. While India registers its first ever appearance in the Final of an AFC club tournament, Air Force Club are the second team from Iraq to make it to the last leg after Arbil who were trounced 4-0 by Kuwait SC in 2012.
The match will see the shrewd Albert Roca being pitted against Basim Qasim, the coach of Air Force Club, who represented Iraq in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Roca will no doubt have an eye on keeping the prolific Hammadi Ahmed on a leash as the striker is on his way to winning the Golden Boot having netted 15 goals in the tournament so far. The Iraqis, however, will be without their second top scorer Bashar Resan who is suspended for the Final having been sent off in the semi-final.
Bengaluru FC will be without their first choice goalkeeper Amrinder Singh who was booked in the semi-final against JDT. Lalthuammawia Ralte will man the posts and has a tough ask on his hand as he seeks to keep a fearsome strike force at bay. Ralte will no doubt be under pressure as he has not appeared for the Blues in this tournament since a 5-3 victory over Ayeyawady United in March.
It is a game where every Indian should look to forget the healthy rivalries that exist between their I-League/ISL clubs and shout in one voice in support of a club that seeks to make history in Doha.
Editorial by Khel Now-Feature Columnist Srinivasan Mohan , Srinivasan Mohan is an ardent football fan from the Silicon Valley of India, Bangalore. He holds a Bachelors Degree in Engineering and an MBA in Marketing. He has been following football since 2000 and is an ardent Bayern Munich and Chelsea supporter. He has had stints with Goal.com and 90Minutes magazine. Srini as he is commonly know, is someone who loves writing on the Bundesliga and is also fascinated by Serie A. Apart from writing, he spends his time drumming, reading, and working out. You can follow him on Twitter.