It was as far back as two years (against Aizawl FC in 2017) when Bengaluru FC skipper Sunil Chhetri last failed to convert a penalty. In a crucial juncture of the quarterfinal of the Super Cup on Thursday, Chennai City goalkeeper Mauro Boerchio denied Chhetri from 12 yards and pulled off six more saves to eke out a famous 2-1 win over the Indian Super League champion at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar.
Two months back, however, the Italian goalkeeper had little to no chance of starting the game against the Blues or playing any football at all. In a way of cruel irony, Bengaluru had a role to play in its own exit from the Super Cup. The 6' 5" Boerchio was released from his parent club, NEROCA FC, to make way for the loan signing of Bhutanese striker Chencho Gyeltshen, who was employed by the BFC. Chennai City travelled to NEROCA where it lost its first-choice goalkeeper Nauzet Santana to injury in a 3-3 draw.
The team was quickly in need of a replacement for the title run-in. Fate would have it the club would happen to stay in the same hotel as its NorthEast counterparts, where the team management stumbled upon Boerchio walking around the halls with no team to play for.
Chennai City had scouted him when it had played NEROCA earlier in the season and was impressed with his attributes. He was signed up on loan two days later and was the no.1 goalkeeper for the last four games of the I-League season. He finished the season with a league winner’s medal around his neck.
“It was almost a match made in heaven,” says a club’s back-room staff of his signing.
Boerchio, although, didn’t have the soundest of starts in between the sticks for Chennai City. He conceded seven goals in the I-League and conceded two in the 4-2 win over FC Pune City in the Super Cup round-of-16.
It was only in the last eight battle against the reigning ISL champion Bengaluru, which had the likes of Miku, Chhetri and Udanta Singh bearing down the middle, the 28-year-old staged a man-of-the-match display.
Chants of ‘Mauro, Mauro’ grew louder around the Kalinga with every save. The towering custodian grew in confidence, too, taunting the Bengaluru attackers to find a way past him.
Boerchio doesn’t put down the performance to instinct. He was busy studying the opposition in the lead up to the game. “We prepared for everything during the week by studying every player. So I was ready for the penalties. I am happy to show what we did during the week. I was sure where he (Chhetri) was going to shoot,” he says.
Boerchio, who is also a student of Business Economics from Italy, is labelled ‘diligent and an intelligent man' by Chennai City’s chief analyst Aravind Chandrasekaran.
“Apart from what I give Mauro, he does his own research. I gave him the penalties to look at from this season, but Mauro used a scouting platform and he checked it out by himself. The platform has every single penalty that was recorded of Chhetri. I saw the players eating lunch and Mauro diligently sitting and watching the videos on his phone,” says Anant.
He adds, “If you tell him that Chhetri has gone to the left on his last few penalties or that he has a tell, he (Mauro) does his own analysis. He watches the penalty all the way through. I don’t remember the last time Chhetri missed a penalty but Mauro might!”
Boerchio says he didn’t have trouble adjusting to the possession-based football adopted by Chennai City coach Akbar Nawas on such short notice, having been groomed in a similar approach under former Chelsea and Juventus coach Antonio Conte at Barri in 2008.
He praised Chennai City’s dressing room and back-room staff for making him feel settled upon his arrival. “I went in the team and they treat me like family so it felt like I was there from the start. That made a difference,” says Boerchio.
Boerchio wants his team to build on from the confidence of the win over Bengaluru as Chennai City remains in the hunt for a domestic double. “We want to reach the final. My goal is to do the best,” he signs off.
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