The Blues’ exploits in the AFC Cup should mark a watershed moment in Indian football.
Seldom has Indian football ever had such high expectations on a single day as this one. Only on two previous occasions has an Indian team qualified for the semi-finals of a continental competition. Bengaluru FC (BFC) needed a goalless draw or a win to script history. The preparations for this game were in overdrive. Regular pre-match rituals had an extra spice, official letters were sent to members of rival Indian clubs to make their presence felt and social media was abuzz with talk only about this game.
In the end, this and a sublime effort from the Steelmen saw the team become the first ever Indian team to make it to the final of the AFC Cup. To add more gloss to this fine achievement, Bengaluru FC outplayed the champions of the 2015 edition of this tournament. Johar Darul Ta’Zim or JDT in short were not unknown opponents for the Garden City club. The Malaysian champions had edged BFC in an AFC Champions League qualifier. What Albert Roca’s side dished out in front of 21,000 screaming fans was nothing short of sweet revenge.
The home team were in for a shock as the visitors inched forward on aggregate thanks to a combination of quick counter-attacking play and poor goalkeeping from BFC custodian Amrinder Singh. The early goal did not dampen the fans in any way. What was more heartening to see is that the team kept their calm and stuck to their game despite the need to score twice to turn the tie in their favour. John Johnson was a rock at the back, Alvaro Rubio conducted the orchestra from midfield, CK Vineeth kept the JDT defence on its toes while the lethal duo of Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Sunil Chhetri were a thorn in the side of the opposition defence.
Chhetri in particular seemed to be everywhere. When he wasn’t shooting at goal, he was drifting wide or dropping deep to shift play to the wide areas. His perseverance and calmness paid off as his header brought the match on level terms. The Steelmen dominated possession as the half wore on. The JDT coach had harsh words for his troops which saw them competing a lot more in the start of the second half, but no amount of advice could have prepared them for Chhetri’s moment of magic where his sublime strike from outside the area beat JDT keeper Izham Tarmizi. The easier thing for Bengaluru would have been to sit back and hold on to the lead. But the Indian club decided to go for the killer blow and it came in the form of another set-piece. The impressive Lyngdoh floated in a free-kick for defender Juanan to head home the decisive goal.
The visitors tried to add aerial power to their front line by asking 33-year old centre half Marcos Antonio to play as a centre forward. The hosts however held on impressively to write their names into the history books. They will face Iraq’s Air Force Club in the final at Doha on 5th November. Whether BFC win this game or not, they know that they may have well started a movement that many I-League clubs will now take note of. A team that was written off as newbies and not having enough heritage behind them are now the team that has brought Indian football to the forefront of the continent. That in itself is an achievement worthy of applause. We at Khel Now, salute Bengaluru FC for this watershed moment.
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.