A tough League campaign had been left behind and Albert Roca’s Blues were staring down the tunnel at a season without continental football – their first in four years. Drawn alongside Mohun Bagan, Shillong Lajong and DSK Shivajians, this would be no easy task.
In the opener against Lajong, Udanta’s first-half goal was added to by Lyngdoh in the second and when it seemed like Yuta Kinowaki’s goal had given hope to the men from the Hills, an own goal from Aiborlang Khongjee gave the Blues a 3-1 lead. Samuel Lalmuanpuia pulled one more back for Lajong but it was too little too late as the Blues started off with a win.
As most stories go, the up was followed by a down. Bengaluru fought tooth and nail against DSK in their second game of the group stages but failed to hit the target. In hot and humid conditions at the Barabati, it remained goalless for all of 70 minutes. But that was before a little Spaniard named Juan Quero turned up with a trick. Two goals in five minutes gave DSK the points, and Roca’s Blues faced an early exit door with a game to play.
The Blues needed a point from their final game against Mohun Bagan to make it through. The Mariners would then face the Blues five days later in an AFC Cup Group stage clash at the Rabindra Sarobar Stadium. Alwyn George’s opener was cancelled out by Sony Norde in the second half and the semifinals would take place with Bengaluru in the script, but the skipper would have to miss it.
Having hobbled off with a tight hamstring in the final group game, Bengaluru took on Aizawl without Sunil Chhetri in their starting eleven. And as if the Gods were watching, eight minutes in, referee Rahul Gupta pointed to the spot as Alwyn went down under a tough challenge. Cameron Watson stepped up, and shook the net with his effort. In a game that seemed to go on forever, it was seconds before the final whistle when Bengaluru had to deal with drama.
Sandesh Jhingan’s foul on Bayi Kamo handed Aizawl a penalty, and it was Lalramchullova who stepped up. Amrinder, who had little to deal with throughout the game, pulled off a golden save in what was the last kick of the match. The Blues were through!
It was a fixture that kept on giving, and there were six of them! Bengaluru were set to meet Mohun Bagan for a sixth time in the same season when they took each other on in the 2017 Federation Cup final.
Playing five games in ten days didn’t seem to have hampered the Blues’ will, as they started to attack from the get go against the Mariners. Roca’s men would find the net twice, both times to be ruled offside, and as videos would suggest, incorrectly.
It was as feisty as it was end-to-end, as Harmanjot Khabra and Sony Norde reignited some unforgotten Kolkata rivalry that earned both of them a caution in the opening ten minutes. And as if regulation time in the heat wasn’t enough, there would be an additional thirty.
Off the bench came CK Vineeth. Bogged down by things outside the pitch, many expected him to struggle, but that’s not him. Finding himself an inch of space in the 107th, Vineeth fired an effort that took a deflection before finding the corner past Debjit Majumder. Fast forward ten minutes, and it was that man again. Twisting past his marker, Vineeth ran at Anas Edathodika and feinted once and unleashed one that no ’keeper could save.
Two-nil BFC, Roca had kept the trend alive. The Blues had a fourth trophy to celebrate, and with it, Asian Football for yet another season.
Amrinder, Arindam, Mawia, Calvin, Juanan, Keegan, Johnson, Khabra, Rino, Sandesh, Sena Ralte, Nishu, Chhuantea, Ranjan, Gursimrat, Lenny, Lyngdoh, Shankar, Watson, Alwyn, Mandar, Beikhokhei, Malsawmzuala, Len, Glenn, Chhetri, Udanta, Daniel, Vineeth
Head Coach: Albert Roca