Spaniard Says His Side’s Run To The Final Of The AFC Cup Shows That Indian Football Is Alive
Bengaluru FC’s magical AFC Cup run may have ended in agony but coach Albert Roca said the achievement of his boys has triggered the start of a new era in Indian football, one that he hopes will be built upon. “I am really proud of my players. They have proved that to be here in the final is not easy. They deserve to be here and going forward it’s the beginning of a new era. We can see that competing at this level is very tough so there’s a lot of work to be done and we have to look forward to being in a final again and doing better. Indian clubs have never shown incredible levels of football but we have started here and we cannot stop,” said the Blues’ Spanish coach.
Gracious in defeat, Roca had no qualms admitting that Bengaluru fell short against a better team and the result, as much as it hurt, was a fair one. “I want to congratulate Air Force Club. They were superior on the day and deserve to win the title. From the first moment, we saw that we weren’t comfortable on the ball. The players of Air Force Club are also at a level that perhaps we cannot achieve at the moment. It was a level of football that we’ve never experienced before,” he said.
With the game still goalless at the hour mark, Roca effected a tactical change, bringing on Udanta and Len in a clear attempt to take the game to Air Force with pace. But just when the move looked like swinging things the Blues’ way, they conceded against the run of play. “We send Udanta and Len on, hoping to add speed to our attack but unfortunately, three or four minutes after we made the substitution but, they managed to score their goal. It was difficult because our intention was to press and cause problems. It was just not our day. It was hard and I have to accept that it wasn’t what we expected from the beginning. But as I said, in front of us we had a team that’s much more experienced and superior to us and we put on a good fight.”
Playing his first competitive game since April and coming in for a suspended Amrinder Singh, much of the pre-game focus was on ’keeper Lalthuammawia Ralte. But the shot-stopper turned up with an impressive performance that drew praise from the boss. ““Mawia did brilliantly and congratulations to him for his performance. He prevented some good opportunities for Air Force Club as they created a few chances to kill the game in the second half. I am very happy for him.”
While they may have shown hints of pressure, the Blues didn’t compromise on effort for a single minute in the game and Roca felt his boys deserved every compliment received for making it this far. “I have to be honest to say that if the players have reached the final, it is because they deserve it. Maybe we didn’t do enough to lift the title but we have achieved the level to permit us to be here. We have a lot of things to do, we have to progress as a side and in doing that, we’ll be here again. In the coming months and in the coming matches, we have to be more competitive than we were today,” he said.
The boss also had a word for the fantastic support the team received. A small contingent of traveling fans were joined by about 4000 Indians based in Doha. “The Indian people have supported us from the first minute to the last and I am very happy about that. It shows that Indian football is alive and it was heartening to see so many Indian supporters in the stands, shouting for us.