ISL final between Chennaiyin FC, Bengaluru FC brings India’s best to the fore
Indian players could have a significant say in the Indian Super League final between Bengaluru FC and Chennaiyin FC.football Updated: Mar 16, 2018 22:05 IST
Given how ATK’s titles came with the team’s spine made in Spain and Chennaiyin FC became champions in 2015 riding Stiven Mendoza’s brilliance, what makes Saturday’s final of the 2017-18 Indian Super League (ISL) special is that it involves Indians on both sides of the pitch who could influence the outcome.
Between themselves, Bengaluru FC (BFC) and Chennaiyin FC (CFC) have nine players chosen by India coach Stephen Constantine for the last Asian Cup qualifier against Kyrgyz Republic. A 10th would have been a shoo-in but BFC skipper Sunil Chhetri is suspended.
Indian players have scored in ISL finals; Mohammed Rafique’s stooping to conquer being followed by T Haokip in 2015 and Mohammed Rafi for Kerala Blasters in 2016. But the games have been dominated by foreigners such as Borja Fernandez, Edel Bete, Henrique Sereno, Mendoza, Bruno Pelissari, Leo Moura and Joffre Mateu. With Miku, Raphael Agusto, Sereno, Mailson Alves, Dimas Delgado and Erik Paartalu, Gregory Nelson slugging it out at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here, Saturday night’s final too could go the way of the other three but there is an equal chance that it might not.
Because the absence of the suspended BFC left-back Subhasish Bose and injured Harmanjot Khabra notwithstanding, both teams have a mix of Indian players who have been in super form. So it’s fit that the backdrop to Friday’s media conference had Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua.
Sixteen of Bengaluru FC’s 38 goals have come from Indians, Chhetri getting 13. And 14 of Chennaiyin FC’s 29 goals have been by Indians with Jeje Lalpekhlua leading with nine.
Between the posts at each end will be Gurpreet Singh and Karanjit Singh with seven clean sheets each. At 19, Chennaiyin FC left-back Jerry Lalrinzuala is the baby of their back four but good enough to play 19 games. And at the other end, Bengaluru FC have 21-year-old Udanta Singh whose ability to wing it could make for interesting duels with full backs Inigo Calderon and Lalrinzuala.
At the heart of Chennaiyin FC’s midfield are Dhanpal Ganesh, whose comeback from a long injury layoff has been so good that Constantine has called him, and Bikramjit Singh for whom this will be the third successive ISL final after playing for FC Goa in 2015 and then ATK. Together with the back four and Rapahel Agusto, they kept FC Goa’s deadly duo Ferran Corominas and Manuel Lanzarote quiet. How successful they are doing that to Chhetri and Miku could have a massive bearing here. In Anirudh Thapa, CFC have another promising midfielder who usually replaces Singh and got the away goal at FC Goa in their semi-final.
Playing further up the park for CFC will be Gregory Nelson and it is likely to be Bengaluru FC right-back Rahul Bheke’s job to contain the artful dodger.
“In Bikramjit, Dhanpal, Thapa, Jeje, they have some good Indian players. I wish them well but hope they don’t do well tomorrow,” said Chhetri here on Friday.
This tells you how, when the national team is 99th in the Fifa rankings, Indians players have improved in the ISL over the years, said Lalpekhlua.