Bengaluru FC join ATK and Chennaiyin FC as winners of the league.
A thrilling contest came to a thrilling end, as Rahul Bheke’s header in the 27th minute of extra time, gave Bengaluru the coveted ISL title. After a tense 90 minutes, in which they saw comparatively lesser off the ball, Blues fought off a testing challenge from FC Goa who despite being down to 10-men for the last fifteen minutes, put everything in line to try and eke out a victory. Bengaluru lifts the trophy for the first time, while Goa has to return home without the title for a second time, having done so previously in 2015.
Bengaluru, despite being less dominant on the ball, threatened the most from the start. Carles Cuadrat chose the same side that started the second leg victory over Northeast United with Rahul Bheke slotted in at center-back and Harmanjot Khabra as the right-back. Xisco Hernandez started as the attacking midfielder, with Dimas taking up the role in defensive midfield alongside Alejandro Barrera.
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Watch: Bengaluru FC 1-0 FC Goa highlights
Chhetri and Udanta constantly tried to utilize the spaces left open due to Miku’s presence and carefully instigated attacking approaches by making the most of it. The duo was pegged back defensively whenever FC Goa had the ball but showed great energy to influence the attack also. Sunil Chhetri, in particular, was a thorn for Goa as the Bengaluru skipper constantly exploited spaces and aided by his full-back Nishu Kumar, created many opportunities for the Blues.
FC Goa, too set themselves up in a 4-2-3-1, with the central line of Fall, Jahouh, Edu Bedia and Coro the key spine for their build-up play. Aided by the likes of Lenny and Carlos Pena, Goa attacked in their own unique and now strangely familiar style. The build-up play was largely concentrated in the middle of the park and the width thus obtained was exploited by the pacy Jackichand or the skilled Brandon Fernandes, released mostly by the likes of Ahmed Jahouh.
One striking aspect of Goa’s play was Ferran Corominas’ lack of useful involvement. The Spaniard was constantly kept in check by the likes of Juanan and Rahul Bheke, which prevented him from influencing Lobera’s offense. The former Espanyol striker finished with just one shot in the 120 minutes he played, a poor return from the Golden Boot winner.
For the Blues though, Miku was heavily involved. The Venezuelan was at the thick of things but his wastefulness in front of goal was one primary reason why Bengaluru failed to open their account in normal time. He missed gilt-edged opportunities, especially striking one close range on to the post, which he should have easily dispatched past Naveen Kumar. He also had a glorious chance to snatch one in injury time of the second half, but his mazy run was spotted by Mourtada Fall, and the Senegalese centre-back was on alert to block the shot.
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Despite being drawn compact defensively, Bengaluru did allow a host of crosses to come in, especially from the likes of Jackichand, whose crossing ability is of the highest level in ISL. One such cross, gave Coro, his only real sniff at goal during the match. The striker tried to hit a volley first –time, miscuing it and missing the goal by a huge margin.
The match was also defined by the substitutions made and it was in this area that Carles portrayed the intent that his side has. During the second half, the Bengaluru gaffer brought in Luisma Villa for Alejandro Barrera. The latter was a destructive midfielder, known for his defensive expertise while the former was a creative genius. His substitutions came at a time when Goa were slowly starting to dominate the field and it brought order back to the Blues’ system.
Goa also had the chance to bring about something similar, with Hugo Boumous available on the bench for the Gaurs. However, Lobera failed to adapt according to the situation and lost a glorious chance to shift the balance to his side during the dying stages of normal time. He finally did bring Boumous on after Bheke’s opener but by then there was very little that could be done. Carles showed that he was a deserving winner with great flexibility and adaptability to his approach, which his side displayed during the game and the tournament.