Bengaluru FC kick-off against Chennaiyin FC

Bengaluru FC kick-off against Chennaiyin FC

Football fans in the city could not have asked for a better season opener as Bengaluru FC host defending champions Chennaiyin FC in a much-anticipated clash here on Sunday.

The West Block Blues — the BFC faithfuls who throng the Sree Kanteerava Stadium during every fixture of the club — still remember the events that unfolded on March 17 this year.

BFC, who topped the league standings by a mile in just their debut season, were granted the privilege of staging the final. In scintillating form at the business end of the season, BFC looked on course for the perfect night when their talismanic skipper Sunil Chhetri put them ahead as early as in the ninth minute. BFC had just two losses at their fortress and it seemed their coronation was just be a formality.

But football can be brutal at times and they endured the worst of it when Mailson Alves put Chennaiyin ahead with a first-half brace. Raphael Augusto then twisted the knife deep into BFC’s heart with a 67th-minute goal as Chennaiyin, who finished eight points behind The Blues at the end of the league phase, galloped away to their second ISL crown.

The simmering tension also saw lots of words exchanged between the two sides post the final whistle with BFC goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s tweet “I want to say congratulations to Chennai, but we won the league. We are the champions,” summarising the testy relationship between the two sides.

While coaches from both sides have played down talks of ‘revenge’ and any lingering bad blood, Sunday’s clash is expected to be feisty. Although the league is a marathon and Sunday’s result will have no bearing on their respective fortunes, both sides would want to get off the blocks on a positive note.

For BFC, who’ve had a change of coach in Carles Cuadrat and some fresh personnel taking charge of key areas on the pitch, things have not gone as per plans over the last couple of months and they would be keen to set it right against Chennaiyin. Cuadrat, an assistant to his predecessor Albert Roca, has vowed to stick with his mentor’s attacking philosophy. He’s also said the priority will be to keep the ball for long periods and tire the opponents into making a mistake.

Chennaiyin, having retained many players who starred in their title triumph last season, is a team that has learnt the art of pulling off victories from tough situations. They rely on an organised defence and like to hit their opponents on the counter. They most probably will be employing the same strategy against BFC, asking the Blues to come at them while they soak it all up and unleash their famed counter-attacks.

An eye will be on BFC's defence -- the meanest last season -- after their bedrock John Johnson jumped ship to ATK following five great seasons. A curtain-raiser of how they cope without the Englishman and their ambitions this season will be on view on Sunday.

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