Bengaluru Football Club
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1st Indian team to reach AFC Cup final / 2016
- Sunil Chhetri led Bengaluru FC to a historic AFC Cup final
- Bengaluru made it to the final by virtue of superior aggregate goal difference of 4-2
- No club from the country has ever made it to the summit clash
BENGALURU: India captain Sunil Chhetri led Bengaluru FC to a historic AFC Cup final by scripting an inspiring 3-1 win over defending champions Johor Darul Ta'zim with his stunning double strike, on Wednesday.
Bengaluru made it to the final by virtue of superior aggregate goal difference of 4-2. The first leg in Malaysia ended in a 1-1 draw.
It is a historic day for Indian football as no club from the country has ever made it to the summit clash of the prestigious second-tier continental tournament.
After the Malaysian team went ahead with Shafiq Rahim's 11th minute goal, Chhetri struck the equaliser in the 41st minute and put the side ahead in the 67th minute. Bengaluru's win was sealed when Spanish defender Juan Antonio Gonzalez Fernandez found the back of the net in the 75th minute.
In front of a packed stadium, the hosts, who trailed 0-1 till the 41st minute, saw their skipper rising to the occasion as he nodded home a Eugenson Lyngdoh flag kick. Chhetri evaded the defence and timed his jump to perfection to bring the 'Blues' back in the match.
However, the defining moment came in the second half when Chhetri made space for himself from 30-yards and took a crack with his in-step to slot home, beating the outstretched hands of custodian Izham.
Lyngdoh who had a dream night at the centre of the park also had a hand in the final goal which shut the defending champions out of the contest.
An indirect free kick was beautifully swerved into the 18-yard box as the lanky Juanan outjumped the defensive melee to place the delivery to perfection as the fans went into delirium.
The significance of this achievement could be gauged by the fact that only two Indian football clubs - Dempo Sports Club of Goa and Kolkata giants East Bengal - had made it to the semi-finals of the tournament since its inception.
Earlier, the Blues constantly applied pressure but Johor took the lead first up as Shafiq nodded home after BFC goalkeeper Amrinder parried the ball in the box.
The first half was a fantastic display of football by both the sides ending at 1-1, but the Blues played dominant game with majority ball possession and making regular forays into opponent's defence areas.
Down 0-1, the Blues raided the JDT defense constantly but without much success with one of the best chances coming in 28th minute through Chhetri as the ball flashed past the goal three times in sheer madness.
The Blues also had a good chance to equalise in 18th minute as Lyngdoh's cross led to mayhem in the box, not before Izham saved twice after a crazy minute.
Blues were unlucky in 21st minute as referee signalled for play to continue despite of huge shout for handball by a rival player.
JDT's Antonio was booked for arguing with the referee in 25th minute.
The second half, however, was completely dominated by the hosts, hardly giving any chance to the rivals by completely outplaying them.
In 48th minute of the match, the Blues made another move with Vineeth dodged past Antonio, found Chhetri unmarked at the edge of the area but he kicked wide.
In 55th minute, Eugene weaved past Antonio with ease but the JDT man recovered well and the hosts had a corner. The rivals managed to clear their lines after Alwyn George's ill-directed shot.
Coaches Ashley Westwood, Albert Roca
Albert Roca says football has created a shift of sorts and they have done something incredible. The Spanish coach is on way to become household name here in India after leading Bengaluru FC to the AFC Cup final in 2016 .
It is a milestone that no other Indian club has ever reached.
With Indian football at the crossroads and looking for an answer, Bengaluru FC's AFC Cup campaign can be the headwind that can settle the I-League vs ISL conflict.
But the travel for the relatively new institution started with Roca's predecessor, Ashley Westwood. The fans at the Kanteerava remembered, when, in the hour of BFC's glory , they unfurled a banner thanking him for his contribution. “It's nice to be remembered and recognized. Three years in football is a very long time. I have helped build that club. It's always going to be a special relationship between me and the fans, the players and the staff and management. It's nice to not be forgotten,“ Westwood said, during a chat with TOI.
The young English coach started from scratch with a clutch of relatively unknown players and set a template unheard of in Indian football. The club won the I-League in its first year of inception. After another I-League and a Federation Cup title, Westwood let go of the reins of the club that he helped grow and mature into a force to reckon with. Westwood left after three seasons but his stamp in unmistakeable in Bengaluru's recent epoch-making exploit. “It was a great result. The victory belongs to all of them,“ Westwood said.“They were a goal down. Honestly , they are not used to playing in big game situations. So they handled it really well. The result just shows that Indian football is improving. It is putting them on the map. It has never happened,“ he added. “As for the final, they have certainly ha ve a chance. They are in the final. It's a game of football. Anything can happen,“ he added.
There is an unmistakable flowering to Sunil Chhetri at BFC. His growing maturity and influence over the years both as India captain and club leader can be seen in the two stunning strikes cleared the way for BFC. But Westwood was modest in his role as moulder-in-chief.“Sunil and all the other players are getting used to playing in pressure games over the last three years,“ he said, before going on to explain, “`We need to win this game to win the I-League, we need to win this game to win the (Federation) Cup final, we need to win this game to get out of the AFC Cup group stage, we need to win this game to get into the quarterfinals'-that's all that has been happening over the years. They know how to handle it now.“
Despite the troubles of the I-League, the refusal by certain teams in Indian Super League to release players, the JSW-owned side proved that running a team professionally is all that matters. It proved the crucial catalyst. “We can't control what goes off the field,“ pointed out Westwood, “You can only control your own footballing environment. That's what we did at Bangalore. We controlled the environment. We played in a good footballing culture.There was professionalism. Everybody works hard. It's the way we do things around here.That's the kind of motto we have. That's what we do. The people who are coming to the club know what the standards are, know what professionalism is. Everybody comes together as one.“ Chhetri is slowly becoming a legend for his club's supporters, has been with Bengaluru since 2013. His leadership and his prolific goal scoring has been one of the major reasons for his team's immense success in the ILeague and now, on the continental stage. In fact, his conversion rate at the international level, 51 goals in 91 matches, is better than that of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
“I wasn't shocked with the way we played,“ he said later, “Sometimes you don't succeed even when you're playing well. Thankfully we got the goal at the right time. We went a goal down and that's when the team showed character.“ “The best part about this team is that every single person wants to work hard and that is what makes us good. We are a team where each and every one; right from our chairman to the head coach to the players, all the way to the ball boys everybody wants to work hard and improve. We don't know what we are going to achieve tomorrow, but one thing is for sure that we are going to work hard and push ourselves,“ he said.