AFC Cup 2016 Final: Remember, remember, the 5th of November
They rose as one, the West Block Blues, as the most vociferous of battle cries in all of Indian football echoed loud through the heavy Bengaluru skies. A magical strike from the right boot of the charismatic skipper of Bengaluru FC meant that the football had just flown 30 yards and pierced the opponent net and now, this still rather young football side stood on the precipice of something truly incredible.
A breezy thirty minutes later Sunil Chhetri and his boys and rewritten the history books; fast becoming somewhat of a habit for these lads.
The belief was always there, and so was the unwavering support and finally on the 19th of October, 2016, dividends were paid! By beating Johor Darul Takzim 4-2 on aggregate (a domination of sorts), Bengaluru FC had set up an AFC Cup final date with Iraq’s Air Force Cup thus becoming the first Indian team to ascend the last rung of one of Asia’s premier club football competitions.
Groundbreaking in every sense of the word
This is something that the most illustrious of India’s clubs, the big Calcutta ones or the Goan powerhouses had failed to achieve since the inception of the AFC Cup some 12 years ago.
The new kids on the block from Bengaluru had achieved what others could never do. One may have expected some animosity to be shown by the traditional big boys, but such was the sense of accomplishment throughout the Indian footballing fraternity post-Bengaluru’s win that the victory was celebrated with equal vigour throughout the length and breadth of the country.
Of course, the praiseworthy incentive taken by the Bengaluru FC management to send out invites to all the big Indian clubs to send over their dedicated fan bases to the scene of the drama did go a long way towards making the semi-final home leg a truly national affair. The startlingly simple initiative taken by the club meant that football fans all over the country sat up and took notice when the men in blue hosted the Malaysian Tigers at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium that evening in October.
Every football fan will once again sit up and take notice when our boys take the field in Doha, Qatar against the team from Iraq. When Liverpool played the Europa League final earlier this year and Real Madrid, the Champions League final, these two legendary teams could not even muster the support of their respective cities but when Bengaluru FC play the AFC Cup final, they will surely have the support of their country’s entire football crazy populace. With India being a country with a population of 1.4 billion, this is one serious fan following that the team will boast tomorrow.
Players who believed in the dream
Coming back to the belles of the ball now, the players themselves, the one thing that most impresses me personally about Bengaluru FC is that unlike the ISL teams, they are not overly reliant on their foreign contingent. There can be no denying that Sunil Chhetri and Eugeneson Lyngdoh are the top dogs in this side; something that has been emphasised by manager Albert Roca time and again and is also evident from his use of these two players in his formations.
However, it is important to note that the other Indian players in this side are no slouch either.
The likes of Alwyn George and C.K. Vineeth have been more than able aides to the two Indian national team regulars while at the back, Salam Ranjan Singh, Nishu Kumar, and Rino Anto have been solid covers for the extremely impressive Amrinder Singh between the sticks.
Roca makes his presence felt
Albert Roca has been incredibly shrewd in his decision-making at Bengaluru thus far; from signing the right players to landing perfect formations, he has hit the right note with virtually everything he’s done. Roca will rightly be credited with taking Bengaluru to their first ever AFC Cup final, but one just cannot overlook the work put in by his predecessor Ashley Westwood since the club’s formation in 2013.
This was exemplified at the Blues’ last home game with two banners being displayed at the West Block side by side. While the fist depicted Albert Roca’s face with the caption “Make Us Dream,” the second acknowledged Westwood contribution in all of this, proudly proclaiming “Thank You, Ashley.” Bengaluru FC’s fans have always been recognised as some of the very best in the country and once again they came up trumps; in the classiest way possible!
A thought should also be spared for the club owners and management, the JSW Group. Managing director Sajjan Jindal and his team have been top professionals from day one, and their efforts will be there for all to see when the AFC Cup final featuring their side kicks off soon.
There can be no denying that the likes of Chhetri and Lyngdoh will have their task cut off. Air Force Club have won the domestic title no less than ten times and given Indian teams’ record against those from Iraq; one cannot be too optimistic. This Bengaluru side, though, seems to be made of sterner stuff and after two huge upsets in the previous rounds, it would be no surprise if they pulled one last trick out from the hat.
For the sheer heart alone showed by this side, win or lose, once the action in the middle is over, players and fans alike can proudly hold their heads up high and wear that champions tag. Bengaluru won’t be going into this game with a vendetta per say, but they will surely play with a vivacious vengeance of volcanic variety. They will make sure we remember.
“Remember, remember, the Fifth of November.”
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