Debutant Bengaluru seek to ride on big match experience
Bengaluru, Mar 15 PTI) Bengaluru FC's impressive record of winning a major trophy in each of their five seasons will be put to the test in the Indian Super League final here on Saturday.
Having won either the I-League or Federation Cup in each of their last four seasons, Bengaluru are just a step away from winning the ISL title on debut, should they manage to get the better of Chennaiyin FC at Kanteerava stadium.
Bengaluru FC joined the ISL only this season but have shown none of the indecisiveness or stage fright that might have plagued a newcomer.
It showed in their performances which saw them rake up 35 goals and finish top of the league, garnering a league-high 13 wins in the process. Moreover, they qualified for the play-offs with four games to spare and were eight points clear of second-placed Chennaiyin FC.
Much of that credit has to go to the make-up of their squad which has experienced players in key positions.
"We have players who have played AFC Cup semifinals, finals, Federation Cup finals. The intention is to go out there and do our best," said coach Albert Roca.
Roca's first choice starting XI -- and the bench to an extent -- has seasoned players who know what it takes to win trophies. Right from goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, a seasoned international with European experience, to the forward line which boasts of the likes of Sunil Chhetri and Miku, experience seeps through the team.
Miku, a Valencia youth product, has featured extensively in the La Liga. The 32-year-old was even named the La Liga Player of the Month for February 2016. His skills are beyond question but his maturity has seen him bring consistency and score in decisive moments.
Of course, the experienced Chhetri himself is a big-game player. His exploits are well documented. Even Udanta Singh, though just 21, is an established international and has already played four seasons of top-tier football.
Chhetri feels that they would want to take the summit clash on Saturday as just another game and not think too much about it.
"We don't want the fact that it is a final, to put any pressure on us. We have been consistent in all areas of the game, but having said that, we still have so much to improve upon. It's important that we put our best foot forward," said Chhetri.
In midfield, Spaniard Dimas Delgado (35) and Australian Erik Paartalu (31) have both proved themselves in the A-League while the defence is helmed by John Johnson (29) who has been at Bengaluru since their inception and has played a big role in their two I-League triumphs and 2016 AFC Cup final run.
Juanan (30), the other rock in Bengaluru's defence, boasts of experience in Real Madrid B team, Recreativo Huelva among others and has won cup honours in Hungary before landing in India.
Harmanjot Khabra (29) has won the ISL before with Chennaiyin FC. Lenny Rodrigues has been playing in India's top-tier for a while now and has won the I-League with Churchill Brothers.
Rahul Bheke (27) is a seasoned ISL player now, turning out for the likes of Kerala Blasters and FC Pune City in previous seasons.
In fact, apart from Subashish Bose (22), everybody in Roca's first choice XI is experienced. Even Bose has been a regular for Mohun Bagan and Sporting Clube de Goa in the last two seasons and now has been called for the national camp.
It is no wonder that Bengaluru FC have the mix of resilience and class to go unscathed through the season so far. Their big-match experience may just give them an edge against former champions Chennaiyin FC