Mentality Monsters Bengaluru FC grind out a big win against Kerala Blasters
Sunil Chhetri's goal on the 55th minute was the difference as Bengaluru beat Kerala Blasters by a solitary goal
It was a game that defied the odds in a lot of ways. Kerala Blasters, to be fair to them, gave it a real go against Bengaluru FC, unlike most pre-match predictions, and could argue they deserved a point at least for their efforts. Yet, the scoreline had a familiar ring to it. Bengaluru FC 1, Kerala Blasters 0. That’s the thing with these champions, isn’t it? They didn't play the swashbuckling football on the night. But when they don't, they always grind out victories.
Against Kerala, it was a tired Bengaluru that turned up. Six of their players had been part of a rigorous World Cup Qualifying round that saw them play against tough opponents in hostile environments. In fact, it was a surprise the likes of 35-year-old Sunil Chhetri, Ashique Kuriniyan and Udanta Singh found the energy to continuously trouble a fresh Kerala Blasters defence.
That is where the mentality kicks in. Winning is a habit, as the cliched saying goes, and Bengaluru FC have that engrained in their system. They will play beautiful football if the situation demanded it. They will play it ugly, roll around, fake a foul, intimidate the referee and even direct the ball boys to delay the service if that helped them clinch three points. The desire to win is a common a trait in all their approaches.
89' The visiting dugout is having a go at a ballboy for not releasing the ball quickly. If only they'd asked their midfielders to do the same. 1-0. #BFCKB— Bengaluru FC (@bengalurufc) November 23, 2019
Against rivals Kerala, it was the dogged Bengaluru that arrived. And they really had to dig deep at times, with Kerala’s big men up forward -- Bartholomew Ogbeche and Raphael Messi -- giving them a hard time in the first half. In fact, Kerala coach Eelco Schattorie did outsmart Carles Cuadrat in the first half with a direct approach that Kerala hadn’t shown in their previous matches this season. But the Kerala team could not capitalize on their pragmatism and Bengaluru snatched that all-important first goal through a well-worked free-kick early in the second half. Kerala will only have themselves to blame though – you don’t often get lucky if you let Sunil Chhetri head the ball unmarked in the penalty box.
A packed Sree Kanteerava stadium (record attendance of 27,083) echoed their team’s mentality. They were loud, intimidating (for the away team) and played the ultimate 12th man’s role in a victory that should announce Bengaluru’s title aspirations. They don’t intend to make it easy for FC Goa and Jamshedpur FC this season, and a fully fit BFC side does look capable of giving all teams a torrid time.
Schattorie’s Kerala did, however, expose a few chinks in the BFC armour. Messi troubled the foreign centre-back pairing of Juanan and Albert Serran frequently in the match and maybe this Bengaluru FC defence are susceptible to long-balls. A big 'maybe', that is. The fact is only one team – FC Goa through a final minute penalty – have scored against this Bengaluru side and it seems like the champions are setting out with a defense-first approach for the season.
I am disappointed to not give our fans what they deserved. With 2 Indian Centre back, on only 3 foreigners some young players we took Bengaluru at their throat in their own house. Second half we dropped a bit yes but you can’t play 90 min press. Proud of my boys. We need time— Eelco Schattorie (@ESchattorie) November 23, 2019
An animated Eelco Schattorie said his team were the better side after the match but football is a game of results and the better sides always win. That said, the Dutch coach can take a lot of positives from the team’s performance. Rahul KP had a livewire game while Kerala's makeshift defence of Raju Gaikwad and Abdul Hakku were quite solid in their performance. New signings Vlatko Drobarov got a few minutes as well as Kerala chopped and changed to find the right balance. With Mario Arques also nearing a return from injury, Kerala have the option to stick with this two-man forward strategy or jump to a more fluid attack with Sahal Abdul Samad pulling strings from the midfield.
But the pitch belonged to BFC and the bragging rights went to the West Block Blues in the season’s first meeting between the two arch-rivals. The incredible turnout, the pre-match tension and the stadium atmosphere all suggest the start of a footballing rivalry that will dominate the Indian football space for a very long time. Kerala are winless at BFC’s fort and the wait for glory will have to wait another year.
(Photo courtesy Bengaluru FC)