ISL 2017: Bengaluru FC announce statement of intent with resounding win over Mumbai City
The 2-0 win sees Bengaluru top the ISL table in their debut season
"We don't need no ISL... ISL needs BFC!"
The chant began in the famous West Block A section of Kanteerava Stadium before it reverberated around the various stands. It's a chant that has been sung for a year but the message has never been clearer.
In 94 minutes, Bengaluru FC - a club forged in the I-League and battle-hardened by three consecutive AFC Cup campaigns - mercilessly put their opponents to the sword with an exhilarating display of fluid football that breathed life into a new league season that had seen two dull 0-0 draws in the first two days.
Amidst all the glitz and glamour surrounding the ISL, the fireworks in Bengaluru were provided by the players on the pitch. There is no room for a movie star to steal the show here. The players are the true stars and a record turnout at the stadium made sure they hit that point home.
The visitors - Mumbai City - had topped the league last year with 23 points from 14 games. Tonight they dropped three in their first game as the Blues moved to the top of the table with second-half goals from Edu Garcia and Sunil Chhetri.
When the game kicked off, Mumbai City coach Alexandre Guimaraes was very relaxed, with his feet propped up on an ice box in the dugout. By the end of the game he was outside his technical area and nearly on the pitch, screaming instructions at his players on how to close down Bengaluru.
It was pointless as the Blues cantered to a resounding win. The Islanders never came close to troubling Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in the Bengaluru goal and the near 6'5" goalkeeper cut a lone figure in the box, aching for some sort of action.
Bengaluru's defenders occasionally passed the ball back to him; just to get him involved. He started the game with barely anything to do. He ended it with not only a clean sheet but also an "assist" - a long ball launched forward in stoppage time that eventually allowed Chhetri to score the second and seal all three points.
At 1-0, Mumbai still mounted a couple of attacks. But leave it to Chhetri whose 'never-say-die' attitude saw him busting a lung to make that run in stoppage time. Aged 33, he looked 26, hair swpet back in the wind as he surged forward to latch on to Gurpreet's punt up field.
The skipper refused to celebrate after netting against his former side. His teammates and 17,796 fans did it for him, lifting the roof off the stadium.
It was Chhetri's 50th goal for the club after all.
"The atmosphere at the ground is very important for the club and the city. The first victory [in the ISL] was very important." - Albert Roca
With the usually desolate North Upper stand also packed with fans, the atmosphere was perfect for an ISL debut.
"We want the fans to turn up in numbers like this because it really makes a difference. If Bengaluru is not a football city then it's about time we changed that. And we're going to work hard to do that." - Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
Bengaluru never was a footballing city. Perhaps the tide is slowly turning - especially with such fluid football on display.
Bengaluru's attack dominated over 90 minutes... and then some
Playing their first game at home and spurred on by a vocal crowd, Bengaluru played with the pedal to the metal as the forward line of Chhetri, Udanta Singh and Miku made the Mumbai defence backpedal on a number of occasions.
Miku is a new signing and this was his first competitive fixture but he played like he'd been with the squad for years with Chhetri and Udanta on the same wavelength, using his movement to get into good positions all across the final third.
Chhetri had his dancing shoes on while Udanta's finger hovered over the button to activate his afterburners. It was seamless and glorious to watch - Roca's philosophy of one-touch football and quick transitions finally having taken shape.
The only thing it lacked (at first) was goals as Chhetri and Udanta came close in the first half. Udanta, especially, did everything right to get into the final third with his final ball (or shot) lacking.
On his part, Mumbai's Abinash Ruidas (the Emerging Player of the Match) did well to keep a leash on Udanta's runs but he, too, was beaten a few times - with John Johnson even finding the BFC youngster with a through ball that split the entire defence before Amrinder Singh snuffed out the eventual cross.
Bengaluru's back-line also made it difficult for Mumbai to gain access to the final third. John Johnson, Rahul Bheke, and Juan Antonio were closer to the centre circle than they were to goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh - reducing the amount of space Mumbai had to work with and catching a visibly frustrated forward line offside five times.
Leo Costa and Everton Santos simply couldn't find a way past them with Erik Paartalu patrolling the area in front of the back-three.
Were an extra-physical Mumbai lucky to play with 11 men?
Mumbai almost performed hara-kiri in the first half when Marcio Rozario made a cynical challenge to stop Miku in his tracks on a Bengaluru counter-attack. The Brazilian defender had raised his elbow above his shoulder, clocking the Venezuelan forward in the face.
The players and fans were up in arms as one while Miku lay on the pitch clutching his face in pain. But the referee only produced a yellow card for a "block" where Marcio had not even bothered going for the ball.
Mumbai's gameplan was to be physical with the home side. If the atmosphere was going to intimidate them, they were trying to return the favour on the pitch. A number of challenges drew the ire of the thousands at the ground, with referee Juenkou Aurelien also getting a torrent of abuse when decisions did not go Bengaluru's way.
The visitors also tried to convert all their throw-ins into set-pieces, launching the ball into the box - a staff member ever-ready with a towel just in case they needed to dry the ball. But without a physical presence in the box, the likes of Johnson, Juanan, and Paartalu dealt with the aerial threat easily.
A solid start to build on for Bengaluru
While it's way too soon to label them favourites, one can see why the majority would. But what keeps this team going is "taking it one game at a time" as Chhetri said before the game. Play for three points and then move forward. That attitude has never changed in four years.
Their AFC Cup campaign has kept them in good stead while Roca had mentioned in the club's match program that their pre-season preparations in Spain and, closer to home, in Bellary had helped the squad come together. Compared to other ISL squads, this team's core has remained the same for a lot longer.
"We know very little about most teams and that is going to make our start to the tournament challenging." - Roca
However, nine other teams already know almost everything there is to know about this Bengaluru side and they will all look to collect a notable scalp this season.
And Roca's Blues will make them work every step of the way.