AFC Cup Victory Against Mohun Bagan Is A Win For The Years For Bengaluru FC
Divided in the stands, supporters of Bengaluru FC and Mohun Bagan were at least united in one front –asking Star Sports on Twitter why they weren’t going to telecast the AFC Cup game on their channel. The channel had the broadcast rights in the country last year from the knockout stages.
Consequently, Best of ISL 2017 and KohliHai continued to be repeated on and on again in their one-too-many channels. And all through the day, Star India defended itself by replying the same message to anyone who questioned it, including BFC CEO Parth Jindal. “Hi! Since we don't have the broadcast rights for #AFCCup2017, #BFCvMB won't be available on the Star Sports network.”
On hindsight, it turned to be Star’s loss as Indian football fans, growing in number by the day, found other means (illegal ones) to catch the game. The 2-1 come-from-behind victory for Albert Roca’s boys in their AFC Cup opener evoked memories of the old BFC, the finalists in the continental competition last year.
Sandesh Jhingan made amends with his equalizer off a Cameron Watson corner after giving away the penalty by bringing down Sony Norde earlier. The highlight of the day was obviously Sunil Chhetri’s stunning free-kick. The BFC captain struck a flat one to the side of the Bagan wall and scored what turned out to be the winner.
“I actually changed the shot at the last moment,” Chhetri later admitted. “I wanted to go over the wall, try for the near post, but then I saw that the goalkeeper was in the middle. I just wanted to place the ball well and I went for it.”
It was also the first home win for BFC against the Mariners. They have only beaten Bagan once before – an away 2-0 win in the 2014 season. The head-to-head record now stands 2-3-3. Only one team from Group E, which also has Abahani Limited Dhaka and Mazriya Sports and Recreation in the mix, will qualify for the zonal semifinals under the new format. You could then say Bengaluru atoned for all their hiccups in the I-League season, where they are fifth-placed and have no chances of retaining the title, with the crucial AFC Cup win.
The reality though is that Bengaluru are still showing signs of discomfort. CK Vineeth, who is strangely still the top scorer (six goals) for BFC because of his hat-trick against Mumbai in the league, had another off-day. The Kerala man miscued a free header that could have put the game beyond Bagan. His stint in the left wing too was marred by offsides and trouble in skipping past wing-back Pritam Kotal. He had just one cross to show for him and even a shot at the edge of the box was dealt with by Bagan defender Anas Edathodika in the second half.
Vineeth’s defense for all of this? “I am not Sunil Chhetri to score with every opportunity I get. I am CK Vineeth.” Hmm.
Next, consider the case of Daniel Lalhlimpuia. The young striker screwed up a lot of chances for BFC but still remains a better version of Vineeth. BFC winger Udanta Singh had skipped past Edathodika on the right and laid a clear one for Lalhlimpuia at the center but the striker somehow miscued even that shot when the scoreline was 2-1. Lucky for them Chhetri was being Chhetri on Tuesday.
The signs though are positive. Now that the teams break for the national team camp, BFC’s new recruit, Marjan Jugovic, will have time to work on his fitness. Roca has spoken highly of the Serbian but despite substitute appearances of over 30 minutes, Jugovic is yet to sparkle. BFC next play Bagan again on April 1 in Kolkata and the Serbian can show his mettle then.
Remarkably, the defence was rock solid for BFC. Juan Gonzalez was positioned as the left-back in place of Nishu Kumar, who struggled against Katsumi Yusa in the 0-0 draw on Saturday. Salam Ranjan Singh was the central defender in place of the Spaniard. And the tactical change worked for BFC. Yusa and Norde kept rotating their positions in the wings but couldn’t lay an easy one for Jeje Lalpekhlua and Balwant Singh in the middle. The one that Yusa did cross for Lalpekhlua in the first half should have been put to rest by the Mizo striker but no. John Johnson, the other central defender for BFC, cleared it after Lalpekhlua missed contact with the ball.
“We could have finished the match in the first half. Jeje could have scored two more goals in the first 45. Unfortunately, football is a game of two halves and we were unlucky that Yusa had to be taken off late into the second half,” Bagan coach Sanjoy Sen said after the game.
Having seen the best of two sides on Tuesday, one can only deduce that the other AFC Cup game will bring out the worst of the either side’s fans. Things had reached a boiling point at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium when the West Block Blues used the lead to silence the Bagan crowd. “F*** you,” “KFC, KFC” - yes, the fast-food brand – and jeers to Chhetri was countered with “Bara Bazaar ayya, ch***** banaya,” and “Go back to your fish, Mariners.” A couple of the WBB fans deliberately shifted to the East Lower B stand to poke fun at their counterparts in the East Lower A, separated by the thin barrier of the press box.
“I take this moment to thank the best fans in the world,” Chhetri remarked after the game. “In my career, I have never seen such passionate fans. We were trailing by a goal and they never stopped cheering us. Every chant and praise kept us motivated. They played a big role in our comeback and on behalf of the whole team, I thank them for their presence today.”
But were those chants all in good spirit? Not really. Be careful what you wish for.