AFC Cup final: Bhaichung Bhutia’s advice to Bengaluru FC for the big match | football | Hindustan Times
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AFC Cup final: Bhaichung Bhutia’s advice to Bengaluru FC for the big match

football Updated: Nov 04, 2016 11:26 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Bengaluru FC captain Sunil Chhetri (centre) who scored twice against Johor Darul Ta'zim in the AFC Cup semifinal second leg at the Shree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on October 19, will again be key for the I-League champions in the final against Iraq Air Force Club in Doha on Saturday. (AFP)

For Bhaichung Bhutia, Saturday’s AFC Cup final featuring Bengaluru FC is India’s biggest club game since East Bengal won the ASEAN Cup.

On July 26, 2003, East Bengal, invited to the tournament comprising teams from south-east Asian nations, beat Thailand’s BEC Tero Sasana 3-1 in the final with goals from Mike Okoro, Bhutia and Alvito d’Cunha. What made the victory even more creditable was that BEC Tero Sasana had already qualified for the Asian Champions League final when they met East Bengal in Jakarta, at the same stadium where India had won its last football gold in the 1962 Asian Games.

Read more | This is the most important match of my career: Chhetri on AFC Cup final

“This is definitely the biggest game since the ASEAN Cup final,” Bhutia told HT over the phone from Gangtok. “The interest level in our win was fantastic then and it can happen again should Bengaluru FC win. Even otherwise, this is a big achievement for them.”

Read more | AFC Cup Final: Why Bengaluru FC should be the role model for Indian clubs

East Bengal’s victory resonated not only through Kolkata, where they were welcomed by people thronging the streets from the airport to the club even though they arrived at night, but was also across the country. Indian football took off on the social media during and after the 2007 Nehru Cup and the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup but even in those pre-Facebook, Twitter and Orkut days, the feat created quite a buzz.

In a group league game of the ASEAN Cup, Bhutia scored four goals. He also scored once each in the quarter-final and the semi-final and was taken on loan by Perak FC of Malaysia where he scored four goals in eight games. Perak finished fourth in the ASEAN Cup.

Read more | AFC Cup final has got Asia taking notice of India: Bengaluru FC coach

Asked what his advice would be against Iraq’s Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya, Bhutia said: “I think they should make sure that they give everything. That’s what we did. We also did not expect to win it. We simply wanted to give of our best in the final, leave everything on the pitch. Bengaluru FC have been together and dreamed together about this for a while. Going into the final, they just don’t need to think about the result.”

Irrespective of how the final ends, Bhutia said this feat will help India make a mark in Asia. “True, this is not the Asian Champions League but the AFC Cup is a big tournament. I think with the right set-up and in time, Bengaluru FC can challenge clubs from top Asian countries,” he said.

Bhutia, who heads the federation’s technical, coaching and development committee, also said Bengaluru FC have vindicated the All India Football Federation’s decision to give them a direct entry in the top tier for a price which was funnelled into development of football.

“With Bengaluru FC, this experiment has certainly clicked and by their performance the club has paid back the AIFF. If they win it now, it will be like living a dream,” he said.

The other big takeaway, according to Bhutia, is that continuity pays. “Bengaluru FC retained the nucleus of the squad and there is a lesson in that for Indian clubs. This team’s management has shown that you don’t be successful by overhauling the roster every season,” he said.