Eugeneson Lyngdoh: Bengaluru FC's MVP
On a historic night at the Kanteerava fortress, Indian football’s golden boy Sunil Chhetri rightly took the plaudits after a brilliant Bengaluru FC performance in their 3-1 second-leg victory over Johor Darul Ta’zim to make the final of the AFC Cup. But one other man had a fabulous game for Bengaluru, ran the show for them and overall, maybe turned in a better performance than Chhetri himself.
That man was Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Bengaluru’s midfield maestro – the ‘magician’ as they call him within the club. Through the course of the two legs of the tie, Lyngdoh was by far Bengaluru’s best player. Last night, he drove that fact home with two inch-perfect set-piece deliveries for Bengaluru’s first and third goals, scored by Chhetri and Juan Antonio respectively.
But Lyngdoh’s contribution went far beyond just the two assists. Along with Alvaro Rubio and Cameron Watson, the man from Meghalaya absolutely bossed the midfield area, as the defending champions were barely given a sniff.
Massive credit for last night should also go to Bengaluru’s manager Albert Roca, who got most of the things spot on, on such a big occasion. In the first leg, Lyngdoh was played on the left side, to accommodate Chhetri in the centre.
But last night, Roca took the big call of pushing Chhetri out wide and punted on Lyngdoh delivering from the middle of the park. And deliver, both of them did as they showed why they are the two best players in India at the moment.
When JDT took an early lead, it would have been easy for heads to drop and the intensity to flounder, but none of that was seen. Lyngdoh took centre-stage as he brought CK Vineeth, Alwyn George and Chhetri into the game with some pin-point passing. He was also helped by the fact that there was always an outlet or two when he had the ball at his feet.
The tireless Rino Anto and Nishu Kumar got forward constantly and were always there for the midfielders to find and then build attacks.
This is a new role for Lyngdoh, no doubt. All through Ashley Westwood’s tenure, he was part of a deeper midfield duo, mostly partnering Josh Walker. But, with the arrivals of Rubio and Watson, he has been freed of some of his defensive responsibilities which enable the attacking side of his game to flourish.
In many ways, it does help that he has got a moment of magic in his locker. What else can explain why he took that punt from sop far out with his weaker foot in the first leg of the semifinal? And what a crucial goal it was too. The away draw did so much good for Bengaluru’s confidence, especially the fact that they had an away goal.
That enabled them to come out and play the way they did at Kanteerava last night. From the first minute, the team and the crowd fed off each other as Bengaluru played some neat stuff.
Lyngdoh, Rubio and Watson gave Safiq Rahim and co. no time on the ball. That meant that influential players like Hariss Harun and AFazly Mazlan could not get on the ball for the defending champions.
For Lyngdoh, it was not just his off the ball work that stood out. His intensity on the ball and purposeful runs into space were pivotal for Bengaluru on the night. He preferred to make runs to the left-side from where he tormented Azammudin Akil and Marcus Antonio.
With Lyngdoh moving to the left side, it also meant that the Malaysian side could not devote all their attention on that side to Chhetri. And that benefited the skipper hugely. He could drift infield and make himself elusive and hard to mark.
You cannot talk about Lyngdoh’s performance without talking about his set-pieces. It was evident to see that he wanted to take every set-piece Bengaluru got, pushing Watson aside to take centre-stage. When you take that kind of responsibility, it is important that you put crosses in that test the defenders. And on the night, every one of Lyngdoh’s set-pieces posed a question to JDT.
Before Chhetri’s equalizer, both of Bengaluru’s best chances came from Lyngdoh corners – the first one fell to Rubio whose shot was fisted away by Izham Tarmizi. The second one fell to John Johnson whose header was cleared off the line before the ball eventually fell for Chhetri to hit the woodwork. The crosses for both the headed goals were perfect.
That is exactly where most defenders hate the ball coming in from a set-piece. It is far enough away for the goalkeeper to not be able to come and catch it. But the pace on the ball is such that one touch goalwards would be enough to score. And that is what Bengaluru’s no. 14 delivered last night. And when he did deliver, Chhetri and Juanan made no mistake.
Probably Lyngdoh’s only mistake on the night came in the 84th minute when he somehow put a close-range header wide from a cross by Vineeth.
But in the end, that did not matter. Bengaluru had done the job. In the process, Eugeneson Lyngdoh stamped his authority and class to show everyone why he is called India’s best midfielder.