The eastern powers may not have noticed, there has been a coup in Indian football in the recent past. In one evening, Bengaluru FC threaten to do something that has never before been seen in India. And there is little doubt that they can do so with a relish that will clearly suggest that power structures in Indian football have changed.
Its been three years since Bengaluru Fc came to life, and one can safely say that they have breathed fresh air in Indian football.
Forget their two titles, or the tactical nuance of Ashley Westwood that got them there. Forget their youth setup and the care they took to build an organised system before they built the team.
Drop it all and think of the fans. Other clubs in India have die-hards too, the Kolkata derby frequently throws up a host of crazies, but the closest thing to an ultra group in India are the ‘West Block Blues’. And its them that Bengaluru will bank on for their second leg of the AFC up semifinal against Johor Darul Ta’zim on Wednesday.
Well, them and those eleven men on the pitch of course. Boys who have become men, and are now on the verge of becoming legends in Indian football.
It has been long overdue. For a city that boasts of a plethora of talent, Bengaluru has never had much sporting success. Their IPL team can be safely argued to be an embarrassment of riches. It is quite literally a spoilt kid’s toy cupboard, too many GI-Joe’s, not enough villains.
In the rollercoaster of Indian leagues, they don’t really boast of any franchises that can offer serious threat to the championship. In fact, the closest a Bangalore (notice the difference? That’s how long its been) team has come to dominating a sport was during the heydays of the Premier Hockey League. Their team played four seasons of the competition and won twice emphatically.
But now all that is past. And West Block A is here to stay.
Bengaluru and Johor have faced each other three times this season already. The defending champions from Malaysia got the better of the Indians in the group stages, but Eugenson Lyngdoh’s wonder strike ensured they came back with a draw and a crucial away goal from the encounter.
This time, Johor will also be missing two key players Jorge Pereyra Diaz, Juan Martin Lucero, both suspended for the tie.
Just like Westwood, Albert Roca is a tactically mobile coach. He comfortably shifted the team line up from a 4-3-3 in the quarterfinal to a 3-5-2 in Malaysia against Johor in the first leg.
While packing that defence seems like an idea that holds ground at away games, it is perhaps Bengaluru’s best form of attack. The formation allows their two wing-backs, Rino Anto and Keegan Periera a lot of space to overlap and run at their opponents. The use of the flanks also frees up some space in the centre for Lyngdoh and Cameron Watson, allowing for their possession based style to take hold.
If there is one thing Bengaluru should be concerned about, it is their conversion rate. They are never short on creating chances, but converting them adequately enough has been a problem. Roca outlined this as a concern in the pre-match presser, as he spoke about Bengaluru’s need to score goals rather than rely on the ‘away’ goal to win the tie.
It is not an approach Bengaluru will take, regardless of the result or the opposition. Their play is centred around keeping and rotating the ball, and almost all their players are capable of shape-shifting, almost mystic warfare. Lying deep and parking the bus will not suit them at all.
The clash has all the makings of a classic – an underdog home team with a technical advantage, the defending champions in limbo. There will be no shortage of drama.
Johor have played at Bengaluru before and walked away 3-0 winners in the group stage earlier this year. West Block A will tell you, that it was a different game, a different occasion and a different emotion. It was a first round tie. The stakes were not quite so high.
How high the stakes are, can be measured by the olive branch the fan community has extended to rivals Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, asking them to support the club and extend their run in the tournament.
It will be a cauldron of blue at the Kanteerava tonight. The era of resurgence of Indian football continues, even if for one night, its centre moves from ‘Super league’ to the ‘Super team’.