BFC beats Tampines Rovers in Roca's debut

Bengaluru FC, under new coach Alberto Roca, won its quarterfinal first leg against Singapore's Tampines Rovers thanks to a goal by C.K. Vineeth.

CK Vineeth Tampines Rovers AFC Cup Quarter Final

Bengaluru FC midfielder C.K. Vineeth celebrates his goal in the AFC Cup quarterfinal first-leg match against Tampines Rovers.   -  K. Murali Kumar

There were no banners or placards at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Wednesday, no chants reverberating down the galleries, but Bengaluru FC had a pretty good time. In Albert Roca's first game as head coach, his men claimed a 1-0 victory over Tampines Rovers that puts them in a fantastic position in this AFC Cup quarterfinal tie. With the return leg in a week's time in Singapore, BFC will be hugely confident of advancing to the last four.

If there had been any nervousness in the BFC camp, it was quickly dispelled. Seven minutes into the game, Sunil Chhetri dispossessed a Tampines player, dribbled past another, and played a slide-rule pass for Alywn George. The latter could not score but Vineeth was on hand to tap the ball in. Their cheers echoed around the empty stands; a closed-doors-game this definitely was.

The goal was illustrative of BFC's new approach: fewer runs down the flanks, fewer crosses in from wide areas, but greater focus on playing balls in through the middle, and behind the defence. Chhetri was vital to the success of this plan. He played a number of clever passes, continually attempting to send Vineeth charging into space.

The central midfield pair of Cameron Watson and Alvaro Rubio was quietly effective. The Australian routinely broke up attacks, mopping up in front of defence, while Rubio circulated the ball without ever breaking stride.

Tampines rarely troubled Amrinder Singh, who did not have to make a serious save until the second half. The Singapore side looked tired and ponderous, the lumbering Jermaine Pennant a shadow of his effervescent Premier League incarnation.

BFC took its foot off gas after the interval, and this perhaps had something to do with this being the team's first competitive game this season. Vineeth headed wide from an Udanta Singh cross, and Chhetri had an opportunity, but there was little else to illuminate a dull second half. At the other end, Yasir bin Hanaqi's shot from distance sailed narrowly over. BFC, though, had done enough.

"We underestimated Bengaluru"

Albert Roca was pleased with Bengaluru FC's 1-0 win over Tampines Rovers in the first leg of their AFC Cup quarterfinal tie, but felt the margin of victory might have been greater. “The result could have been better,” the BFC head coach said later. “We had chances in the second half. But some of our players were tired, which is understandable. We're a team in construction and we will improve from here. We know we can beat them. The job is far from done, but we have to go to there (Singapore) without fear.”

The game was played to empty stands, with the Sree Kanteerava Stadium closed to the public after the violence in Bengaluru's streets earlier this week. “Conditions were a little strange,” Roca admitted. “There were no fans. But we hope to give them another chance to see us in the AFC Cup – in the semifinals.”

The Tampines head coach, meanwhile, was scathing in his assessment of his side's performance. “Maybe we underestimated Bengaluru,” Akbar Nawas said. “We were not good enough. We started too slow. We are fortunate the tie is still only 1-0. We will definitely make changes for the return leg. We have to start brightly.”

The result: Bengaluru FC 1 (C.K. Vineeth 7) bt Tampines Rovers 0.

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