ISL 2018-19: Bengaluru FC’s winning culture shines through in semi-final triumph over valiant NorthEast United

Bengaluru FC have done it again. Ticket to yet another final is booked and the tradition of winning all semi-finals the club has been a part of in their history continues.

Kaushal Shukla March 12, 2019 14:30:37 IST
ISL 2018-19: Bengaluru FC’s winning culture shines through in semi-final triumph over valiant NorthEast United
  • Bengaluru FC have done it again. Ticket to yet another final is booked and the tradition of winning all semi-finals the club has been a part of in their history continues.

  • The 4-2 aggregate victory over NorthEast United may appear comfortable on paper, but those who witnessed the two legs of the tie would agree that it was anything but.

  • The scoreline also to an extent takes away how valiantly NorthEast United fought and had Bengaluru in a lot of trouble at different junctures in the tie.

Bengaluru: Bengaluru FC have done it again. Ticket to yet another final is booked and the tradition of winning all semi-finals the club has been a part of in their history continues.

ISL 201819 Bengaluru FCs winning culture shines through in semifinal triumph over valiant NorthEast United

Bengaluru players celebrate after clinching victory over NorthEast United. ISL

The 4-2 aggregate victory over NorthEast United may appear comfortable on paper, but those who witnessed the two legs of the tie would agree that it was anything but.

The scoreline also to an extent takes away how valiantly NorthEast United fought and had Bengaluru in a lot of trouble at different junctures in the tie.

Bengaluru were the superior team, but NorthEast United for most parts of the 180 minutes didn’t let it transpire into actual results on the football pitch.

In the end, Bengaluru FC found the way like they always do. For a club to be in just the sixth year of its existence to have such a level of winning mentality is incredible. The club made it to its fifth final on Monday and have won five titles in total. They are also the only team in India to reach the AFC Cup final, and narrowly finished runners-up in the ISL final last year.

The win over NorthEast United in an intense semi-final tie underlined the winning culture that exists at Bengaluru FC. It’s a lot easier to summarise that feeling in two words as establishing such hunger for success, the confidence to achieve it and the appetite to repeat it year in year on is as rare as it’s commendable. On Monday, that winning culture was on show again.

The job could have been a lot tougher for Bengaluru had they not recovered from a poor first hour of the first leg in Guwahati to get that crucial away goal. NorthEast were physically stronger and more intense than Bengaluru in that first leg, but the Blues weathered the storm to slowly impose themselves on the game.

In a game of few chances, Bengaluru found a hero in Xisco who couldn’t have chosen a better time to score his first goal of the season after coming close on several occasions and not quite succeeding. Bengaluru had great resources on the bench to fall back on but it is quite another task to make them count.

Bengaluru did so in both legs to make the most of coach Carles Cuadrat’s tactical tweaks. In the second leg, the Spanish coach took off his top center-back Juanan for a wide attacking midfielder in Luis Lopez. The change allowed Sunil Chhetri to move centrally and add to the numbers inside the box. As things panned out, it made telling impact as Miku was able to get at the end of a cross to break the deadlock and open the floodgates for Bengaluru.

There were many mental challenges that Bengaluru had to overcome in the semi-final tie. Conceding a late goal against the run of play to lose the first leg was one such blow they had to deal. Miku, Bengaluru’s top striker, also perhaps the best in the league, blew 3-4 gilt-edged chances in a first half dominated by the home side.

There was no early breakthrough in the second half as well as Bengaluru’s chances faded with every passing minute without a breakthrough. But despite deserted by good fortune, Bengaluru didn’t allow frustration to creep in their ranks. They kept probing and Miku finally converted to turn the tie upside down in a flash.

“We were calm. Usually when you don’t score for 75 minutes there is panic, but we knew the kind of chances we had and we were confident we would get more chances. We expected it to be tight as we knew the opponents were an excellent team. We finally took our chances and I can say everything went according to the plan,” Sunil Chhetri told reporters after the game.

Cuadrat had said in the build-up to the game that he felt a special night was in the offing on Monday and that’s what he got. The club’s program notes sent out a similar vibe as it talked entirely about the fortress that Sree Kanteerava stadium has been and how Bengaluru are different team playing with there with their vocal supporter base always behind them.

The crowd certainly played its part. They didn’t transfer any anxiety on to the pitch even when Bengaluru were 15 minutes away from elimination. The West Block Blues led the chorus from the stands as Bengaluru finally made NorthEast dance to their tune on the pitch.

NorthEast came into the game as the best traveling team in the ISL. They had won five games on their travels keeping six clean sheets in process. For 75 minutes they stayed true to their away record but in a battle of expertise Bengaluru’s winning mentality had its way and you’ve surely heard that before.

The game was more about the vibe and emotion. There was a tactical battle to be won, which the Highlanders had won in the first leg. Bengaluru had to turn things around to be able to impose their quality on their opponents and they did just that.

The Blues were helped by notable absentees in the NorthEast camp, but they did well to take full advantage of that. Unlike the first leg where Bengaluru were playing narrower, the Blues made it a point to maintain width.

While in possession, Bengaluru tweaked their 4-3-3 setup into a 4-2-4 to stretch a compact NorthEast defence. The front four produced great movement but the width was always there.

“The gaffer told us to resist the temptation to come inside. He said even if we would not get the ball, we needed to stay wide. That was the clear message he sent us,” Chhetri revealed after the game.

Udanta Singh and Chhetri who didn’t please Cuadrat with their performance ran the show on the flanks. Udanta was particularly impressive sending in one dangerous cross after another. On a different day Miku would have had a hat-trick just scoring from Udanta’s crosses.

The strategy to stretch NorthEast United worked as Bengaluru created several clear-cut chances. The goal which took 75 minutes to arrive always loomed over the game. Cuadrat and his Bengaluru players deserve credit for never losing faith in their plan and they were justly rewarded in the end.

NorthEast United were undone by the sheer number of injuries they suffered. Going into the season with a thin squad, the impact of the injuries was even more significant. But few teams are able to sustain their playing level when you lose four top first-team players during a course of the two legs. The luck with injuries was so bad for the Highlanders by the end of the tie that if there was to be another leg, NorthEast United would have perhaps struggled to field eleven players. In the scenario, NorthEast played out of their skins to resist for 165 minutes to trail for the first time in the tie against perhaps the best team in India.

Eelco Schattorie and Co will come back stronger with lessons learnt in their first-ever season of promise, but the day clearly belonged to the Blues from Bengaluru who added yet another success story in their brief yet glorious history.

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