Bengaluru made it four wins out of five in what is their debut ISL season, in what was an entertaining game against Pune City. I’m not going to give the score away at the start, let’s walk through it and see how it all unfolded.
In the preview of the game, I said it was going to be a game filled with goals and my tip was over 3.5 goals @ 13/8, however, I very nearly didn’t watch the game unfold because the Pune supporters unveiled a banner saying ‘Welcome Sunil Chhetri’. Just to give you some context, Chhetri is India’s captain and all-time leading goalscorer, but even still, there’s a time and a place and that’s not it. I suppose a similar example in modern day England would be Southampton or Watford having a banner saying ‘Welcome Harry Kane’ when they faced Spurs at home and if that happened I would just give up. I’m not condoning violence or anything but it would be better if they had a banner saying ‘You are dead to us whilst at Bengaluru’ as it would have certainly spiced things up.
The game started with both teams keeping it on the deck with them both playing some nice, intricate stuff and I was hoping it was going to start in a similar way to the Goa vs Kerala game which had three goals before the twenty-minute mark had arrived. The opening opportunity of the game fell to the home side after some fantastic persistence from Diego down Pune’s right wing which resulted in him winning a corner. The Brazillian whipped the corner in himself and it was a beauty of a delivery which was met by Gurtej Singh who was unmarked, it was going to be the perfect start. Well, it would have been, but Gurtej headed over, which he most definitely would have been disappointed with. I know I was, it would have got the over 3.5 bet off to the best possible start.
Indian heartthrob, Chhetri, was almost through at the other end but he timed his run ever so slightly wrong which meant he was rightly flagged offside. From the resulting free kick, Diego was tormenting Bengaluru’s left back, Bose, once more as he put another delightful ball in the area, unfortunately for Popovic’s side, it just about evaded everyone as Pune looked the more likely of the two to break the deadlock.
All of a sudden, it happened again. That car and bike were back at the side of the pitch and my blood pressure went up a few notches as I was still none the wiser to what they were doing there. I must be looking in the wrong place for information because Google is not yielding any results regarding the vehicles but that will be my mission for the rest of this season, to find out what they are doing there.
Pune were again the team turning up the pressure as Alvaro was nearly gifted an opportunity following some sloppy, out of character, defensive play. A back pass was under hit to the keeper and Alvaro nipped in and stole the ball, but before he had ample chance to strike it, the keeper was off his line to make an important block. There was yet another corner for Pune moments later as another wave of attack tried to break down the away defence, again, not too dissimilar to the one earlier, it resulted in a free header. Again, over the bar. Not good.
The goal kick which was the outcome of another wasted opportunity was hit straight down the other end and this time it was Bengaluru who looked dangerous as they won a freekick in a promising position on the edge of Pune’s box. It probably took about a maximum of twenty seconds from the goal kick to them winning the free kick as they looked to take the lead. It was Chhetri vs Kaith as he stared him down. He curled it around the wall, it was on target, it was going in… saved. Kaith got down smartly to his left side to keep the scoreline 0-0 and made me think that I will have to rethink my closing part of my articles as the over 3.5 was not looking likely.
But then, breakthrough! Goaaaaaaal! Chhetri put Bengaluru one to the good as he controlled the ball, took it round the keeper and finished smartly. 1-0. Wait a minute. Shit. Disallowed. Turns out that Chhetri had been watching Maradona for inspiration as he quite clearly knocked it using his arm and the linesman flagged for a free kick to Pune. If the goal had been given I’d like to think that the home fans would have taken my advice and started saying that Chhetri was dead to them and all sorts; maybe one day it’ll happen.
Half an hour had gone by as the shot counter appeared on the screen. One on target. Brilliant isn’t it? It certainly was a far cry from the goal fest I had witnessed in the Goa game last week, that’s for sure. All in all, despite them having more corners and such, Pune were the ones playing like the away side with Bengaluru controlling the play, with patient and measured build up. A rare misplaced pass from the away team resulted in Delgado lunging in and giving away a free kick in Pune’s own half, however, on reflection, it did look like he got the ball.
From that freekick, we did have a breakthrough! Game on! The ball was quickly played down the right as, once again, it was all about the delivery. Vanmalsawma (try saying that after a skinful) put it on a plate for Adil Khan who guided the ball past the keeper with a diving header to put Pune 1-0 up with about ten minutes left in the first half.
In the remaining ten minutes, there wasn’t an awful lot happening as it was pretty much more of the same, Bengaluru keeping the ball, biding their time, waiting for a gap in the Pune defence. The last bit of action was when Udanta Singh tried to spring another counter-attack after a Pune attack at the other end had fizzled out and he was cynically obstructed by Sahni as he took one for the team and got booked as it could have been a whole lot worse if Udanta was set free.
The midfield trio of Paartalu, Braulio and Delgado interchange fantastically well for Bengaluru in the middle of the park and if there isn’t an option to go forward, they’ll quite happily go backwards or sideways as they wait to pounce.
Pune have looked good on the counter-attack, but they will rue those two misses from corners.
Much like the opening period, the first few minutes were of few chances for either side as it started like a game of chess as both teams were waiting for the other to make a move. This suited Pune much better as they were happy to let Bengaluru have the ball as they had bodies behind the ball and they all knew what had to be done.
Unsurprisingly, Bengaluru were the ones who had the first meaningful effort on goal in the second half and it was all about that man again, Sunil Chhetri. He picked the ball up and after some smart footwork, he unleashed a rasping drive which would have nestled in the corner had it not been for Kaith’s awareness. From that corner, which was claimed by Kaith once again, he produced, a quite frankly, outrageous throw which went half the length of the pitch to Alvaro and Pune were bearing down on Ralte’s goal.
Pune’s talisman, Alvaro was still going and he lifted the ball across to Diego who cut back inside and he was left with two options. 1) Shoot or 2) Give it back to Alvaro who was in a much better position. When you factor in that he’s Brazilian, of course, it’s going to be number one, however, when you’re in a situation like that, you have to get it on target and make the keeper work otherwise you look stupid. Over the bar, it went.
Back up the other end, it was Bengaluru causing havoc once again as the front three of Udanta, Miku and Chhetri were starting to click and when they click it normally means Bengaluru click. There was a fantastic advantage played on the edge of the box before Kaith made yet another save and they had yet another corner with the second half still in its infancy. The ref then went into the six-yard box and called someone out for which I thought was for some Argie-bargy, but I was wrong. He was going back to the offender who committed the foul on the edge of the box and he had his cards out so you knew he meant business. It turns out it was Sahni again, it was his second yellow and he was off. There weren’t any arguments which speaks volumes.
As both teams were adjusting to the red card, there were three substitutions; Bengaluru withdrew Juanan and Paartalu for the more attack-minded Toni and Garcia as they looked to force their way back into the game. The home side brought on Ashique for Lucca in what was a like for like swap as Popovic wanted a new engine in the middle of the park.
Garcia made an immediate impact as he was the provider for the equaliser. A driving run forward and some smart interplay with Chhetri gave the ball to Garcia in the box and he smartly squared it to the in-form Miku who duly put it away to make it 1-1. It was all they deserved for their possession and the continuous peppering of Kaith’s goal; but then, there was something that set me off on one again. After Bengaluru scored there was music blaring through the tannoy and I thought Bengaluru were the home side but then I remembered they weren’t and I was questioning everything to do with the ISL once again.
Braulio had the chance to put Bengaluru in the lead straight from kick-off as their front three was causing mischief yet again, after some fantastic play, it was put on a plate for Braulio to finish, but once again, Kaith stood in the way and kept another attempt out.
Even though they had a man less, Pune and Diego in particular still looked dangerous going forward and they very nearly retook the lead as Diego and Ashique tried to take on the back line all on their own. However, they tried to overdo it and it ended up just going back to the keeper and off went Bengaluru again.
It had been coming for a while, but Kaith’s resilience was beaten again as the away side deservedly completed the turnaround and went 2-1 up. Udanta played a massive part in this, he was the one who sprung the offside trap and pulled it back to Garcia who had a shot blocked, which looked dubious, to say the least as nearly every Bengaluru player appealed for a penalty. Every player with the exception of Miku. He was focussed solely on the ball as he put it passed Kaith for the second time, cue pandemonium.
Bengaluru sat back after that as they were content with their 2-1 lead and they still had much more of the ball even though they weren’t as arsed as before. Pune just couldn’t find a way through and as the game entered injury time, I had convinced myself that the bet had no chance of coming in. Maybe all was not lost as Pune won a free kick in the 93rd minute after a ridiculous tackle from Udanta which I think made one of Popovic’s vein burst. So there was two of the five minutes left in the game which Pune were losing, but the keeper didn’t go up for the free kick. Another black mark for the ISL.
The free kick didn’t amount to anything as Bengaluru were just winding the game down and Pune had a throw in which surely was their last chance to salvage something. They lost the ball again and that was that. Or was it? Instead of taking the ball into the corner like you would expect, Chhetri wanted a goal. He drove forward, playing a one-two with Toni on the edge of the box which put him one on one with the keeper. He produced an amazing, delicate chip over the keeper to make it 3-1 in the NINETY SIXTH minute. Bengaluru had won. The bet had won. What a game.
The bet was never really in doubt, was it? I’ve now got a welcome to Sunil Chhetri banner outside my front door in case he ever wants to pop in.
Jokes aside, Bengaluru were brilliant. This is a big statement but they played a lot like Man City, they were calm, composed and they never looked like losing, even at 1-0 down. If Pune had kept eleven men on the pitch I still firmly believe that Bengaluru would have won, they were that good. One stat which shows this is Bengaluru completed more than double the amount of passes that Pune did.
So, all things considered, if I was a betting man and luckily I am, I’d be backing Bengaluru to win the league.