Until a three-goal burst late in the second half flattened NorthEast United FC in the second leg of the ISL semifinal, the Bengaluru FC faithful were a anxious lot. But not once did the players themselves panic, revealed club talisman Sunil Chhetri.
“We were calmer than usual,” said Chhetri. “If until the 70th minute you don’t get a goal, generally there is panic. But looking at the kind of chances we got in the first half, we knew we were going to get more. Everything went according to plan. The coach told us that it would be cagey and jittery. Just getting the first goal was important. That broke their morale.”
NorthEast’s strategy, in the absence of its lead striker Bartholomew Ogbeche and key midfielder Rowllin Borges, was to suffocate BFC, especially in central areas. But Chhetri and Co. were seemingly ready for that too.
“It was very difficult with them having three narrow midfielders. The coach asked us to be wide and stretch them. He told me, ‘even though you get tempted, do not go [into the middle]’. They are one of the best teams in the league and have a coach who knows how to play. So that’s why that 3-0 win tastes sweet.”
Udanta Singh’s role was instrumental in breaking down NorthEast, Chhetri felt. “He is our game-changer. All three strikers in our team are different and he is the most dynamic. He is someone who opens up games for us.”
Sunday’s summit clash will be the club’s second on the bounce and Chhetri hoped it wouldn’t end in another heartbreak like it did against Chennaiyin FC. “Last year after we lost the final, we were too emotional. But I just told the boys, ‘we are going to start working hard for the next season’.
“Now, I am so proud them, because it is not easy to be the team which everyone thinks is going to be in the final. It is not easy when everyone wants to defeat you. We still topped the league. People say things are not working, but we still reached the final.”
Chhetri said none of this could have been achieved without the club’s supporters who thronged the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, like they had against Johor Darul Ta’zim (AFC Cup semifinal, 2016) and FC Pune City (ISL semifinal, 2018).
“Somebody reminded me that every time we have a semifinal here, we play with 12, 13 and 14 men. And it just showed. Ask any opponent who has played a semifinal here. It is not easy and that’s thanks to the supporters.”
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