Bengaluru & Chennai jostle for ISL crown
Bengaluru: Bengaluru FC's impressive record of winning a major trophy in each of their five seasons will be put to the test in the Hero Indian Super League final at Sree Kanteerava stadium in Bengaluru on Saturday.
BFC are the overwhelming favourites to defeat Chennai-based side the final. But Bengaluru fans will know that a home team has never won the ISL final; Goa (2015) and Kerala (2016) leaving the field with massive heartaches. Added to that is another statistic that a team which has finished on top of the league table too has never went on to become champions in the ISL since inception in 2014.
Nothing, however, will hold back the home fans in this South Indian Derby. They will occupy every available seat at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium and cheer the Blues till the final whistle, hoping they finish the tournament like they had started at home: on a dominating note.
"We started (our preparations) earlier than other teams because of the AFC Cup. We have tried to succeed. There is one more step to do right now but until now I am happy for everyone. The fans have always been behind us. Tomorrow is a big game against a very difficult team. Chennaiyin have shown a lot of quality. I am not expecting an easy game. It will be the most difficult game of the season," said Bengaluru FC coach Albert Roca.
Bengaluru have been the stand out team in this edition of ISL. They have scored 38 goals, second only to Goa, but it's their defensive record – conceding just 17 times in 20 matches – that gives them a clear edge. With goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu making it extremely difficult for rivals to get past him, Bengaluru FC should feel confident that they can continue their fine run for another game. Significantly, Bengaluru FC are unbeaten in their last 10 matches, winning eight of them.
Not everything goes in Bengaluru's favour. Chennaiyin FC will also fancy their chances, having defeated Bengaluru FC 2-1 at their own den, thanks to a last-minute goal from Dhanpal Ganesh during the league stage.
John Gregory's side has given a good account of themselves and proved that they know how to win matches that matter. Against FC Goa in the semi-finals, Chennaiyin FC negated the threat of Goa's dangerous strike pair of Ferran Corominas and Manuel Lanzarote and will hope to do the same against Sunil Chhetri and Miku, who have combined to score 27 of their 38 goals.
"We are going into this game with a lot of confidence. We know that we have won there before, and we are not the only team (to defeat Bengaluru FC at home). We have utmost respect for everything they have achieved. We are Chennaiyin. We are not afraid of anyone," said Gregory during the pre-match media interaction.
Gregory is fortunate to have players who have played ISL final in the past and emerged triumphant against all odds. Players like Mailson Alves, Raphael Augusto, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Karanjit Singh were part of Chennaiyin's 2015 ISL winning squad. Now they will want to repeat that performance all over again, away in Bengaluru, just like Goa 2015.
Bengaluru FC joined the ISL only this season but have shown none of the indecisiveness or stage fright that might have plagued a newcomer.
It showed in their icy-cool performances which saw them rake up 35 goals and finish top of the league, garnering a league-high 13 wins in the process. Moreover, they qualified for the play-offs with four games to spare and were eight points clear of second-placed Chennaiyin FC.
Much of that credit has to go to the make-up of their squad which has experienced players in key positions.