Bengaluru FC face Qatar’s Air Force Club in a historical match on Saturday. Becoming the first Indian team to feature in the final of the AFC Cup, Indian fans worldwide are hoping for one last moment of magic from their heroes.
A lot has already been written and talked about Bengaluru FC’s dramatic and incredible rise in the Indian footballing diaspora since its inception in 2013. Bengaluru FC is the only Indian club to have won the I-League in its debut season, a feat they managed in 2013-14.
Also read: 5 talking points ahead of the AFC Cup final
Here, we take a look at four key reasons why Bengaluru FC deserve to be in the finals of the AFC Cup, one of the biggest club competitions in the continent.
#1 Albert Roca’s introduction
While no credit can be taken away from Ashley Westwood, it is Albert Roca’s introduction as coach which has seen the transformation in the side. Ashley Westwood had instilled a new dimension in Indian football to Bengaluru FC, while Roca has instilled discipline to the side, which has seen them playing a compact game in defence, something that is essential for winning long and tiring tournaments.
Roca played as a defender in his playing career and he surely knows a thing or two about defending. The key change in the side has been the introduction of defensive discipline, which has made Bengaluru FC a different team on the pitch. The team always maintains their solid shape, and in John Johnson and Juan Antonio, they have two centre-backs who love to keep the ball away from their half.
Rino Anto and Nishu Kumar have been two key players coming into the finals and deserve to start and give the much-needed attacking intent from the wings. The four clean-sheets already shows the ability of this back-line and the effect it has had on Amrinder Singh and Lalthuammawia Ralte, who is almost certain to start after Amrinder’s suspension from the final.
#2 The Indian Players
The key to a team’s success, in sub-continental shores, is usually the home-grown players, and Bengaluru FC have a mine of talent in this aspect. Sunil Chhetri, the talismanic national team captain, has always led Bengaluru FC from the front and is one of their main players. The captain scored a brilliant brace in the semi-final victory against Johor DT in the semi-finals, comfortably taking his team to the finals.
While Chhetri is arguably the best Indian forward ever, Bengaluru FC also boasts of the best Indian midfielder in its ranks, Eugeneson Lyngdoh. Lyngdoh is magic on the ball and a beast off it. Playing in a make-shift role as a left winger, the Indian International has accepted his role comfortably and has scored goals for his team at critical junctures.
Also read: Eugeneson Lyngdoh: Bengaluru FC's MVP
The other Indian contingent are not just there to make up the numbers, though. In Rino Anto and Nishu Kumar, Bengaluru FC have one of the safest side-back pairs currently plying their trade in India. Alwyn George can be our own version of Tomas Rosicky and is found everywhere on the pitch to help his teammates. A hard-worker, Alwyn never backs off from challenges and has shown his abilities on the biggest stage.
Amrinder Singh has kept four clean sheets in the AFC Cup journey as of now and deserves a national call-up soon.
CK Vineeth, upfront, is one of the most hard-working players in the team. Not as talented as Jeje Lalpekhlua or as burly-built as Robin Singh, Vineeth is a content player who burns a lot of grass match in, match out. The former Chirag United player always keeps his team first and is known to be unselfish for the team’s cause.
#3 The Indian support and the booming talent
Various footballing celebrities have arrived on Indian shores and have said that they’re amazed by the talent they see and the need for its correct nurturing. Finally, we see something happening. Stephen Constantine has played a major role here, giving national team debuts to more than 30 youngsters in the last three years. This has seen a major change and growth in the Indian footballing story.
The ISL has also given a new audience to the game, which has huge potential in the country. Our forefathers had defeated the Yorkshire Regiment 2-1 in 1911, had drawn 2-2 against Pele’s Cosmos FC in 1977 and were invited to play the FIFA World Cup in 1950, but could not due to financial constraints.
Thus, it is high time we push the game to where it belongs. With the world’s second largest population having no dearth of talent, Indian football, finally, is looking to be on the way to ascendency.
Bengaluru FC have one of the best setups in the country and have their own fan base. What is exciting is that fellow I-League clubs like Mohun Bagan and East Bengal and ISL teams like Kerala Blasters FC and FC Pune City have given their full support to the team, even praising them on public forums. Thus, with this kind of support and actual hopes and wishes, Bengaluru FC, with all its hard work deserves to be in the finals.
#4 Fighting against all odds
The journey to the finals has not only been about the club or the team, it’s been about individuals as well. When Sunil Chhetri returned from Major League Soccer and the Portuguese second division after plying his trade with Kansas City Wizards and Sporting CP B, there were no major teams willing to sign him, and thus, he joined Bengaluru FC.
The growth has been phenomenal. Sunil has bettered as a player and has seen some of the best moments of his club career, winning the I-League on multiple occasions and also reaching the AFC Cup final.
For Nishu Kumar, a journey from UP’s Muzaffarnagar to the AFC Cup finals is nothing short of a dream. While individual stories have been dreamlike, it is the team’s story which has been nothing short of phenomenal. Bengaluru FC started its journey just three years ago, winning the league in its debut season. The team also won the league after a hiatus of a year and has easily been one of the best teams in the country for the last three years.
I-League is one of the toughest leagues in Asia, with only four foreigners being allowed to feature in the playing XI. While the Singapore and Qatar leagues are more relaxed in terms of the home-based players’ rule, Indian club Bengaluru FC have, against all odds, managed to reach the pinnacle of Asian football, which is nothing short of an achievement in itself. Breaking all barriers to reach where they’re right now, Bengaluru FC deserve all the plaudits for their lofty achievements.