The Mumbai Football Arena resembled the Colosseum on March 17, 2019. The Gladiators were Bengaluru FC and FC Goa as they squared off in the finals of Hero Indian Super league (ISL), 2019. Both were appearing in their second finals but had never won the title. The stage was set for the coronation of a new champion.
Here’s how the action unfolded…
The first half was riveting with no team running away with the match. Bengaluru FC’s strategy was clear; offer little room at the back and play fluently in the mid-field. The tireless Miku combined well with the electric-heeled Udanta Singh and skipper Sunil Chhetri to create many chances. However, FC Goa put up a neat defense, denying them a goal. Custodian Naveen Kumar was like an impregnable wall!
On the other hand, FC Goa’s attack was quite weak compared to their opponent’s. The team largely relied on long diagonal balls to the pacy Jackichand Singh. He, in turn, fed crosses to striker Ferran Corominas, who, struggled to convert his chances. The first half ended with a blank.
The second half witnessed an explosive start with both teams receiving a booking each in the first five minutes. In the 61st minute, Edu Badia came within inches of scoring for FC Goa. With only the keeper to beat, he wasn’t able to make adequate contact with a header. In the 81st minute, Miku put the ball past Naveen only to see it hit the side bar. Still no goals!
In extra time, both teams started off quite cautiously. In the 104th minute, Xisco Hernandez shoots in a full-blooded volley with his left foot from just outside the penalty box. Another attempt, another Naveen save! Then, a twist! Ahmed Jahouh is sent off after a reckless kick to Miku’s abdomen. FC Goa are now down to ten men.
With close to four minutes left for the match to go into penalties comes the death blow. Dimas Delgado curves in a corner with his right foot. Rahul Bheke rises and heads in the far post, away from the diving Naveen. Goal! Rahul, nicknamed Bheken-bauer, has broken the deadlock! This is his third, and perhaps the most important goal this season.
From there on, with a man less on the field, FC Goa faced an uphill task and succumbed. As the referee blew the whistle, Bengaluru fans rejoiced and broke into rapturous celebrations.
Bengaluru FC was finally holding the elusive trophy!