ISL 2018-19 Semifinal: Bengaluru FC stands between NorthEast United and maiden final

Bengaluru FC hosts NorthEast United FC in a must-win second leg Indian Super League 2018-19 semifinal encounter at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Monday.

Bengaluru FC

After suffering a 1-2 defeat in the first leg of the semifinal, Bengaluru FC will go all guns blazing against NorthEast United FC when the two sides lock horns in the Indian Super League on Monday.   -  K. Murali Kumar

NorthEast United FC's injury-time winner in the first leg of the Indian Super League semifinal may have sent the club faithful into raptures, but come Monday, in the return leg at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium against Bengaluru FC (BFC), there is still a job to do. The 2-1 advantage is as wafer-thin as it gets, especially with BFC having scored the crucial away goal.

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That NorthEast may not have two of its best players in striker Bartholomew Ogbeche, who has scored 12 goals, and midfielder Rowllin Borges will only make matters difficult. Coach Eelco Schattorie wouldn’t reveal the extent to which the duo had recovered from hamstring injuries sustained in Guwahati, but his counterpart Carlos Cuadrat chose to focus only on his side.

NorthEast United FC

The NorthEast United FC squad trains ahead of its second leg Indian Super League semifinal tie against Bengaluru FC.   -  K. Murali Kumar

“I am happy we are here with a result which is not so bad,” Cuadrat said on Sunday. “The mood is good. We are training very well and I am sure we can give the fans a night to remember, like the AFC Cup semifinal (2016) and the playoff against Pune last year,” said the Spaniard.

Cuadrat amps up the pressure on refereeing

Bengaluru FC head coach Carles Cuadrat doesn’t agree with admonishing referees during the match, but on the eve of the semifinal second leg against NorthEast United FC, he was scathing in his assessment of what transpired in Guwahati. NorthEast had edged the leg 2-1, with Uruguayan striker Juan Mascia converting a 95th minute penalty awarded against Harmanjot Khabra.

“It was a clear foul of Mascia on Khabra first,” Cuadrat said. “The referee wants to be part of the action and says penalty when Khabra grabs Mascia while falling down. May be the referee wants to feel that sensation of 20,000 people clapping. You gave a penalty in the 95th minute for them in Guwahati. Will you give it when someone is grabbing Sunil [Chhetri]? I am not sure.”

Cuadrat also alleged that his side has not been treated fairly all season. “We have Sunil, Udanta [Singh], Miku, three of the best strikers in the country and we receive only one penalty all season. We have got 95 corners and 64 free kicks. Do you think in these 150 odd situations no player from other team has grabbed us, pushed us? Sunil, Udanta, Miku..they are like Messi. If they fall down, they immediately stand up.”

NorthEast coach Eelco Schattorie however dismissed the claims. “It was a clear penalty. If you are losing it is always hard. When we got a penalty earlier against BFC, it was a soft one and I was the first to admit it. So you should be objective.”

BFC’s form has waxed and waned in the past few weeks, but Cuadrat’s confidence stems from the fact that he has a full squad to choose from. Key midfielder Dimas Delgado appears to have escaped sanction for his alleged role in the post-match fracas after the first leg, with only the two assistant coaches, Gerard Zaragoza of BFC and Shaun Onteng of NorthEast, receiving touchline bans.

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“We are one team with some names and completely different with other,” said Cuadrat. “You saw in the second half how NorthEast was without Ogbeche and Borges…they are another team. It is the same for us. When we had a full squad, we have been unbeaten, won six continuous games. So we can win, even if it goes to extra time.”

Juan Mascia

NorthEast United FC's Juan Mascia celebrates after scoring the winning goal against Bengaluru FC in the first leg on Thursday.   -  ISL MEDIA

The visitor can take heart from the first half performance in the opening leg where it dominated the ball. NorthEast also had the stingiest defence in the league phase(18 goals) and has lost just two out of nine games on the road, though one of those was in Bengaluru.

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“We are here to win,” declared Schattorie. “It is all or nothing. We have a good away record… the best I think. Most clubs and teams we go to, the support isn't that much that it can shake you. I am not scared. ”

BFC though might have other ideas.

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