Bengaluru, Bagan gear up for the final fight

Football I-League: With title on line, league set for a cracking finish

Bengaluru, Bagan gear up for the final fight
 It is not often that you see a football league have a “one-off final” to decide the champion. But this time, the I-League winner will be decided in a one such situation when reigning champions Bengaluru FC go head-to-head with Mohun Bagan in their final league tie in what is expected to be a humdinger of a game.

Though a draw at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Sunday will do it for the Kolkata giants, Bengaluru will have to garner all three points if they are to retain their crown. With one game to go, Bagan lead the table with 38 points, while Bengaluru occupy the second spot with 36 points to their credit.

The hosts have enjoyed a good run at home, having beaten East Bengal 3-0 and Salgaocar 3-1 in their previous two clashes, while their only defeat here came against Pune FC earlier this year. And the Bengaluru defender John Johnson believes that his team will carry on the good work when they take on the Mariners on Sunday.

“Our form has been really good this season. Especially at home, we have been a formidable force,” he said.

“Moreover, this game is setup like a cup final and that definitely makes you excited. These (matches) are the ones that you look forward to. You work hard all season for this.”
Bengaluru’s head coach Ashley Westwood will have the liberty to choose his best personnel for the big tie with the whole squad available for selection.

Australian Sean Rooney is expected to form the attacking trio with Sunil Chhetri and Robin Singh, while the Bengaluru live wire, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, will try to impose his supremacy in the midfield with Joshua Walker and Shankar Sampingiraj.

While Bengaluru have shown a steady improvement in their performance this season, slowly crawling their way into the title race after a dismal start, Bagan’s journey, on the other hand, has been nothing less than a roller coaster ride. Being seven points clear on the top at one stage to seeing the margin reduce to two points, this is something that might haunt Bagan if they end up on the wrong side of the result on Sunday. And you can partly blame Bagan’s dismal form away from home for this possible outcome. The Mariners have lost three and drawn four games playing away, while winning just two.

With two of the best teams battling it out for the title, Pierre Boya, who has been a lethal weapon up front for the Mariners said that it was too close to call.

“Two best teams against each other, this will be very close. I think the game will be decided on the manner one handles the pressure. We know that Bengaluru will try to put us under pressure from the beginning and I am sure that we will be up for the task and win the title tomorrow,” said the confident Cameroon international.

Coach Sanjoy Sen will also be looking at a fully fit squad for the tie. Balwant Singh is once again likely to lead the Bagan charge in the company of Boya and their top scorer Sony Nordé, while Japanese Yusa Katsumi will be seen marshalling the troops in the midfield.
And with tickets being sold like hot cakes for the first time this season, Kanteerava is set for a cracking night of football.

What’s at stake?

The situation: With 38 points from their 19 games, a draw will be enough for Mohun Bagan to end their title drought and win their first-ever trophy in the I-League era.
Meanwhile, the reigning champions Bengaluru FC, who have 36 points, need nothing less than a win to hold on to their title they won as debutantes.

Prize money: Winner: Rs 70 lakh; Runners-up: Rs 40 lakh. Asian incentive: Winner of the I-League qualifies for the AFC Champions League play-off, while the winner of the Federation Cup will play the AFC Cup.

If the Federation Cup winner wins the league, the second-placed team qualifies for AFC Cup.

Keyplayers

Eugeneson Lyngdoh (BFC): The 28-year-old midfielder has been Bengaluru’s go-to man in times of crisis. With eight goals and 14 assists to his name, the former Shillong Lajong player will once again be expected to be on the top of his game when they take on Mohun Bagan on Sunday.

John Johnson (BFC): The defender has been a vital cog in the Bengaluru defence this season. His ariel presence and no-holds-barred attitude has helped Bengaluru thwart the opposition attack with ease. And with the experience of Curtis Osano complementing him, the duo will have to lead the team’s rear guard against a clever Bagan attack.

 Sony Norde (Bagan): The Haitian striker has led the Mariners charge from the front. With nine goals from 18 games, the Bengaluru defence will have to keep a close eye on the 25-year-old. His ability to power past the defence with pace and strength is what makes him one of the lethal weapon that Bagan posses.

Bello Rasaq (Bagan): The six feet tall Nigerian is one of the experienced campaigners of the league. With more than 100 league games under his belt, the defender will be key to Bagan’s defence as they look to stop a free flowing Bengaluru attack.

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