Game, set-piece, match Bengaluru

Slick Transitions May Have The Purists Drooling, But There’s A Special Nonchalance In Slaying The Opposition After Giving Them The Time To Deal With The Impending Assault. Little Wonder It’s Called Dead Ball, As Odisha Would Figure At The Fortress On Wednesday…

Kitted in blue, they stood around it with the kind of confidence that’s embarrassing, the four of them. The wall decided they were going mano a mano, and then one more on the set-piece, with the cushion of two defenders and a goalkeeper behind them, should they perish on the leap. The math wasn’t labyrinthine and Carl Friedrich Gauss’ gospel of numbers wouldn’t be disturbed. There could be three decoys at the most, one for certain. The first man ran past the ball, the second chose a playful little hop over it, the third was scarily convincing with an almost-strike and then the fourth lifted and sank it in with one fleeting motion. Juninho Pernambucano-esque

The colour of the uniforms were a coincidence, the routine – a perfectly planned design. Within minutes the kids from the GLPS School in Malappuram were all over the internet and their choreographed finish even got the nod from Lothar Matthaus and Xherdan Shaqiri on Instagram.

Had Josep Gombau known the quartet were aping a free kick routine they had watched Bengaluru FC orchestrate (as they would later tell a television channel who turned up at the school to recreate the moment on high definition cameras), he would have armed the kids defending with the same advice he doled out to his side a day before Odisha would take on the Blues. Or maybe, he wouldn’t. You’d rather let surprise singe you, than helplessness that stems from knowing what’s coming, but not being able to do anything about it.

The shutters snapped as Gombau stepped onto the stage alongside Martin Guedes on Tuesday. Questions about their recent run of form, injuries, suspensions and more were answered swiftly before their plan for battle was asked to be laid out. The Spaniard, articulate, replied. ‘Bengaluru are the best team when it comes to set-pieces. We must not concede silly free kicks or corners. And if we do, we must defend them well.’

Free kick, one-nothing. Corner, two-nothing. Corner that leads to penalty, three-nothing. Que sera sera, whatever will be will be. The future’s not ours to see.

This was a narrative that needed no explaining. Conceding a foul anywhere in the Blues’ attacking half was considered a slip – one that could well lead to calamity, and the Spaniard knew it all too well. The charts on walls in the dressing room were XL-sized versions of the aces Carles Cuadrat held up his sleeve when he led the Blues out to battle on Wednesday night at the Fortress.

Three Starts, A Fresh Lease

He has been rising at 3 AM, but not particularly shining, and it’s all down to the thirteen-hour time difference between two countries that Deshorn Brown is still battling with. But the Jamaican didn’t really need to rub his eyes when he found himself starting the game on Wednesday. A mid-season signing, he had been brought in to impact games straight away.

His cameo in Mumbai offered little to analyse for the Odisha staff, and the striker could have had his opener with less than 15 minutes on the clock when Udanta squared one for him to finish. With the goal at his mercy, Brown’s side-footed tap in caught the ball and sent in on target, only for his standing foot to come in its way. But the Jamaican wrote a little Redemption Song of his own, just seven minutes later.

There wasn’t much that could be done to avoid giving away set-pieces when Udanta and Chhetri make their markers feel like slalom poles down the flanks. And then Brown threw himself into the mix and was hauled down in a matter of minutes. With the ball placed and squished on the turf by the dugouts, Harmanjot Khabra and Suresh Wangjam were the elected hoppers. We’re never sure how long the ploy of a decoy run helps when Dimas Delgado has a glint in his eyes, but who’s asking?

With Gombau holding a premium ticket to the show, Delgado slapped the ball into flight, and watched as it made its way to Paartalu, who nodded it down towards goal. Brown made it sure with just the right amount of foot on the ball, leaving Arshdeep Singh no chance.

Earlier in the day, the Aussie was the first to the dressing room ahead of the team meeting and left his hammer aside for a stylus that he used to scroll through an individual highlights reel from the game against Mumbai.

Joining him soon after was Suresh Wangjam, who had asked the team analyst for individual clips of Xisco Hernandez the night before. The Spaniard was welcomed back to the Fortress, but found the going tough in a midfield with friends who are now foes, and a little kid clawing at his ankles for the new toy in the store. For a little over 80 minutes Wangjam made himself a menace in midfield, moving from player to player on a mission to heckle. It was his first ever start for the senior team and the game was one with massive consequence.

And then there was Udanta, who embraced chastisement the way every sinner should – with repentance and a renewed chase for salvation. Toiling was never a fallacy when it came to the Flash. It was simply a case of confidence, or the lack of it when it came to decisions in the final third. He had done enough at training to warrant a chance to start.

And Then There Were Two

With a goal in the bag, Bengaluru went shopping for another. Odisha’s defence took the shape of a beaded door curtain every time the ball was placed for a set-piece, and it needed just two more minutes for Cuadrat to flick his second ace on the table.

At the corner flag, Delgado slipped the ball to Udanta and asked for it back with enough conviction to drag Daniel Lalhlimpuia to him. Udanta, dropping his shoulder to deceive an old friend, took the ball and galloped down the touchline with it. Paartalu was the easiest target and the Aussie managed to make his jump an acrobatic volley, and with a little help from Aridane Santana, Bheke bundled it over the line.

Aridane had tried to be a bit of a nuisance himself, attempting a volley at Serran’s thigh before pushing the Blues’ defender over on another occasion. Tempers flared and words had been exchanged, but the Blues wouldn’t let momentary madness undo the rhythm they were constructing.

The Perfect ‘Hat-Trick’

With Mumbai City breathing down their neck on the table, Odisha had to do more than just duck and keep it respectable. Guedes crashed the chance to score an improbable deficit-reducer, into the upright, and there’s no telling what shape the game would take had the visitors pulled one back early in the second half.

But the man who so nearly got Odisha back into the contest, took it away from them when he hauled down Paartalu in a bid to make sure the man-mountain wouldn’t get his head to Delgado’s corner. Chhetri placed the ball on the spot of white paint, jogged gingerly to keep Arshdeep from committing and then smashed his take with venom. The ’keeper was always going to be late, Chhetri, always on target. The skipper was quick to attribute the finish to advice from Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. ‘He helps me with penalties, more than you know. The way I went about this one, was all him. He’d read their ’keeper and was like that nice guy in class who shares notes.’ Gurpreet will assist.

The wind had been knocked out of Odisha’s sails and Cuadrat brought on Ashique, because he could. With the Flash setting fire to the right and Ashique running riot on the left, Dimas could pick his spot and add a few more yards just for the fun of it. The wingers were his bait and Odisha’s full-backs simply had to be teased. At one point, Ashique seemed to swallow the turf as he made it past his marker and sent in a cross that Udanta nodded goalward. Odisha had retreated, and rightly so, and Gombau’s final roll of the dice was one to help keep all his men on the pitch as Sarangi, who was handed the task of marking Ashique whilst carrying a yellow card, was withdrawn.

The final thirty minutes were academic. Cuadrat had thrown an ace at every chance Odisha prodded him while citing a bluff. And then they stopped. Bengaluru had scored from a free kick, a corner and then a penalty – the perfect hat-trick. The boss had ended the night with the traditional pumping of his right fist three times that the West Block mirrored. For once we wished he would turn up with a different closing act – one where he tucked the match ball under his shirt and walked away to chants of ‘Carles, set-piece’.