In The Thick Of Everything That Went Down At The Fortress On Sunday Night, One Moment Outside The Ninety Minutes And Injury Time Outlined Bengaluru FC’s Hunger To Be Better…
The collective trudge came to a grinding halt, the kind when someone with authority is barking orders at a march-past. The hands seemed to go on the waists in unison before everyone’s gaze turned to the giant screen erected in the stands. And then, just like that, chaos took over what seemed like a peaceful gathering. There was an assortment of cuss words in Spanish, English, Hindi and Punjabi. Throats were dry but spit still managed to hit the turf in disgust. Smaller groups of twos and threes took shape where everyone spoke and no one listened as the trudge continued, till one by one, every blue shirt disappeared into the tunnel at the Fortress. The boys thought they could endure the agony of the moment that saw them come undone, in ultra-slow motion, on a massive screen. They did.
Injury time had hurt Bengaluru the most and no spray, with all its magic ingredients, was going to heal the blow. A game that was touted as one with the promise of flair beyond the usual, was settled when a one-two that Juanan never wanted to play with Sergio Cidoncha, ended up in the back of the net. Ninety plus four. Two-two. Restart. Short whistle. Short whistle. Long whistle. Despair.
Much of the pre-game blabber circled around Tim Cahill’s possible debut in the Indian Super League. We’d watched video clips of the Australian’s aerial duels in the media room on the morning of the game. He had springs for studs, and when he leaped higher than Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra to head home for David Moyes’ Everton, we knew that if there was ever a day when the Blues’ centre-halves had to rise to the occasion (pardon the pun), this was it.
After a scrappy opening that seemed to go on until the break, it wasn’t a Cahill header followed by a sparring session with the corner flag, or Miku choosing to score and celebrate a goal like he does, on the day a shoe company launched a Mickey Mouse collection to commemorate the iconic cartoon character’s 90th birth anniversary. Instead it was Nishu Kumar who sparked off Santoshakke on the loud speakers with a goal that Chhetri wished he’d score.
Xisco’s free-kick travelled forty yards into the box and then another twenty away from it, off the head of Tiri. But Nishu, who had just hopped over the set-piece himself, showed sheer desire to gain a step on Mawihmingthanga, bring the ball down with his chest and hit it as sweetly as it can be hit, into the top right corner. It didn’t fly like an arrow. The stands had the luxury to blink, just once maybe, and still catch the ball sail past Subhasish Roy Chowdhury. Nishu wasn’t sure how to celebrate. So he happily played victim to a massive pile up. Mickey Mouse and corner flags could wait.
Six goals had been scored in the final ten minutes of five ISL games prior to the Blues walking out at the Kanteerava on Sunday night; a trend that Cuadrat’s men had hoped wouldn’t continue when their one-goal advantage seemed to be what would prove the difference. But, almost as if the clock had waited, on 80 minutes, Mario Arques floated one into the box for Gaurav Mukhi to poke home. The tables had turned and the Blues now needed a late goal of their own.
Cahill’s last appearance had come at the World Cup, when he replaced Tomi Juric for twenty minutes of Australia’s 2-0 loss to Peru at Sochi’s Olimpiyskiy Stadion. Cesar Ferrando gave his 38-year-old target-man a breather, and rightly so. And just when the Aussie had pulled on his bib in the dugout, it was Chhetri who rose high to nod one home. Prophetic irony.
In a little backstory, the skipper was furious with himself on Friday, for something he’d wished he’d done better. It wasn’t to do with football, but if you know the man, you know his pursuit for perfection is obsessive. He went on needlessly flaying himself over text messages and ended with saying he’d make it right with a goal. What was that chant about him scoring when he wanted?
The points were shared in bizarre circumstances, with three goals coming in the closing fifteen minutes. A tragedy it may have been, with Cidoncha pulling his trigger to play the role of John Wilkes Booth on the night, but it’s paramount that the Blues’ faithful not forget that the play they came to watch had been an entertainer.
After the game, Nishu confessed he wished he had scored a tap in instead. You can’t blame the boy for feeling the way he did. The goal was worthy of winning any game across any league in the world. The Blues assistant Gerard Zaragoza saw the defender’s shoulders drop and came over. “What a goal, Nishu!” he said, giving the boy a big hug. He tried.
Cuadrat is as eloquent with his words as he is elegant with his choice of shirts. “This is why football is a wonderful game, you try to control so many things, but one moment can change the course of the game,” said the boss.
The repeat telecast of the game would keep popping up on television, then there was the option of watching it on the internet whenever they wanted to. Also, the boys would get copies of it from the team analyst. But there was a flaw that was exposed and it needed fixing. If it meant standing together minutes after what felt like a defeat, and watching it on the big screen in the stadium while the Jamshedpur players were celebrating a heist a few feet away, the boys would do it. Right then, right there. Because, you win some, you learn some.