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The final countdown

With both teams plotting each other’s downfall, a high-voltage clash is expected between the Gaurs and the Blues

The final countdown

It took 94 matches to test the fate of this season's ISL finalists – the game has finally boiled down to Bengaluru FC and FC Goa. 2019 will see the crowning of a new champion with Goa and Bengaluru both managing to reach the finals for a second time – both having been outsmarted by Chennaiyin FC in the 2016 and 2018 seasons respectively. The two best teams of the league have set up a final date for tonight at the Mumbai Football Arena, ready to lock horns in search of their first title.

Indian football is definitely rising and the intensity witnessed in the last few games of the league stands bold testimony to what will possibly be an astounding future. As many as six of the 10 teams were in contention of a playoff berth until the 88th game. Kolkata and Jamshedpur did have their chance of qualifying, but Mumbai and NorthEast United's sudden rise towards the latter half of the league put the former at bay.

Bengaluru lost the first leg of the semi-finals to the Highlanders, but came back stronger to snatch a victory from NorthEast. NorthEast managed to reach the playoffs for the first time after finishing fifth for two seasons, but some serious injuries cost their run to the title. They did manage a good stint given their lowest budget, but injuries of Ogbeche, Borges, Gallego and Robert during the semi-finals marked Bengaluru as the favourites. They came back to register a 3-0 victory and 4-2 on aggregate at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium.

While most Indian teams are about defensive and counter-attacking approaches, attacking principles have been the core of the Gaurs and the Blues. Tonight, we are all set for a high-voltage final with both teams demonstrating an aggressive brand of football on the wings – a dream final for all neutrals. Spanish compatriots Sergio Lobera (Goa) and Carles Cuadrat (Bengaluru) are already familiar with each others strategies, having worked together for Barcelona youth teams, and will be plotting each other's downfall. "All finals are special. There is a lot of tension. We are going to stick to our plan and be ready physically and mentally. In football, a lot of things happen that change the game," said Cuadrat.

A second shot at the title has come for both teams, pitting one friend against another. After narrowly missing out on the title in 2016, FC Goa has earned itself a second chance. This time, however, the team looks like it has everything in its arsenal to reach the end. A tactical genius, a goal-scoring phenomenon, creative midfielders and a defensive powerhouse make Goa a prime contender to take home the spoils. Dispatching a strong FC Goa in the grand finale will be no walk in the park, but having been the more consistent side in the tournament over the last two seasons, the popular perception is that Bengaluru definitely deserves the trophy.

Can Bengaluru exorcise its final blues or will Goa's symphony strike the right chord?

ARIF MOHAMMAD

ARIF MOHAMMAD

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