BFC's path to the summit

BFC's path to the summit

Football I-League

BFC's path to the summit

Bengaluru FC were undoubtedly the side to beat in the I-League this season. A steady defence with a composed Amrinder Singh in the goal and a fiery attacking set-up which included the likes of Sunil Chhetri, Eugeneson Lyngoh and Udanta Singh, Bengaluru seemed to tick all the boxes as they launched their quest for a second league crown early this year.

And though they faced a few hiccups  on their way, it was only fitting enough that the city side clinched the title here on Sunday with a game to spare. Their lead on top of the table with 32 points meant the final game of the league against the outgoing champions Mohun Bagan just a formality.

With league crown set to be handed over to them, when they finish their league engagement on Saturday, we take a look at moments that defined Bengaluru’s title-winning run.

Commanding start

Even before the first match could get underway at the Salt Lake stadium where the then champions Bagan hosted the newly promoted side Aizawl FC, the league suffered a huge blow in terms of participation. Three teams -- Pune FC, Bharat FC and Royal Wahingdoh -- decided they had had enough and cut their first team operations, making themselves unavailable for the season. This meant the league would now have just nine teams and every team would get just 16 games to stake their claim at the title.

A reduced number in the games meant that teams needed a good start to the season and that they would have to treat every game as a virtual decider, something Bengaluru did exceptionally well.

They began the season in a convincing manner, winning the opening three games. And even though Ashely Westwood’s men suffered a jolt at the hands of Mumbai FC and Sporting Clube de Goa later, they bounced back in style to get their campaign back on track.

Impact signings

It’s always a risk that a club takes when it shells out money to rope in prospective talent to improve its squad. And with respect to the I-League where a club is allowed only four foreign recruits -- of which one has to be Asian --  the stakes are higher.

Will they fit the bill or won’t they, is a question that only time can answer here. And Bengaluru were once again on top when they brought in the likes of Michael Collins and North Korean Kim Song Yong to fill in for the injured Joshua Walker and Australian Sean Rooney who bid adieu to the club at the end of last season.

While Collins did take a while to settle into the side, once in there the Englishman proved his worth as he commanded the play with his smart moves and swift passes. On the other hand, forward Kim was at his best when called into action using his towering build to the fullest to be a nuisance in the opposition box. The North Korean slotted in five goals from 15 games in the league.

Infusing young blood

The rule to play a U-22 player in every league game, introduced to provide the upcoming crop of Indian football, has loopholes that many teams have exploited. But that was not the case with the Bengaluru set-up as Westwood didn’t hesitate to let his young lads have a go at the opposition.

The likes of Malsawmzuala and Daniel Lalhlimpuia proved their worth in the limited opportunities that they got, while Amrinder Singh and Udanta Singh took it a notch higher as the duo cemented their place in the playing XI of the side.

Squad depth

Injuries are an unavoidable part of any sporting set-up. Be it any game, the team needs to be prepared to fill in for its first-choice player if need be.

Bengaluru were the pioneers in this field too as they had enough depth in the squad, with replacement filling in for the absentee and performing the role to its fullest. The squad looked a bottom-less well of talent.

Never-say-die attitude

Apart from the above mentioned points, it was Bengaluru’s never-say-die attitude that egged them on to a second I-League crown in their three-year history.

Even when the side was outplayed by a rampant Mohun Bagan at home or when they lost the plot against a 10-man Sporting side -- again at home -- the players and the support staff never lost belief in what they could achieve. “Even when we lost a couple of games and were trailing East Bengal in a crunch game, we still knew we could win the match,” said the club’s medio Michael Collins.

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