As they say, “they might consider it a fluke unless you do it twice.” This is exactly what the youngest top tier club and one of the most successful clubs in Indian football, Bengaluru FC did to pull off an amazing feat of entering the AFC Cup semi-finals, the Asian equivalent of Europa League.
Only the third Indian team to achieve the historic feat, Bengaluru FC have marked an incredible moment in Indian football and have given themselves enough reasons to be proud of themselves. Not just that, the club has also put on a plate, a strong reason for every Indian to be proud of as well. Afterall, reaching the AFC Cup semi-final is no mean feat.
With the Indian participation extending this season in the AFC Cup, the AFC U16 going on in Goa, and FIFA U17 World Cup set to go ahead next year, these are exciting times for football in the country amidst the brouhaha and the buzz of the Indian Super League, starting in less than 10 days.
While Indian football saw a new low over the past year or so during the fag end of Koevermans’ era and the start of the second stint of the Stephen Constantine era, things have looked more positive over the last few months with India hosting a much better ranked Puerto Rico and smashing them 4-0. And now with a gritty, brave effort from Bengaluru FC, scuffing a result to make through to the semis, this is a new high in Indian club football in some time and has given every reason for the fans to believe in the process and that India will make a mark sooner or later.
Bengaluru FC was born in 2013 when the cash rich Jindal family, the promoters of JSW Group decided to take it upon themselves to help develop football in the country as they got into the top tier through corporate entry. And 3 years down the line, they have already done enough to form a sort of a template for others 2 follow. With 2 I-League titles and a Federation Cup in the bag, the Bengaluru based club has won a title each season so far, but their exploits in the AFC Cup thus far stand out.
After finishing 2nd in the group stages, losing 3 and winning the same number of games, Bengaluru FC got the better of Kitchee SC to setup a quarterfinal clash with Tampines Rovers. Following a strong performance across 2 legs against the Singapore outfit, the team has progressed further to setup a semi-final clash with their group toppers Johor Darul Ta’zim who beat them on both occasions by 3-0 and 0-1 in the early stages, making for a really tough encounter.
A new coach at the helm and a new-look foreign contingent, the club has put together a formidable sides and despite stars, devoid of egos. The new setup deploys a very different style to Ashley Westwood and with a wholesale change in personnel starting, it could be seen as a very different Bengaluru FC side that went down twice to Johor in the group stages.
With the team Bengaluru FC have looked in the last 2 games and the quality all over, though tough for the I-League side, it won’t be easy for Johor and the football fans could be in for a treat. Whatever the result, Bengaluru FC has flown the Indian flag high already.