Carles Cuadrat did his best to play down the occasion but, as he often does, Venezuelan striker Miku showed class that few strikers possess, slapping an unstoppable shot past Karanjit Singh in the 41st minute to seal a 1-0 win over defending champions Chennaiyin FC at the Kanteerava Stadium, in Bengaluru, on Sunday.
The Blues suffered a telling blow on the eve of the game when influential playmaker Dimas Delgado limped out of training with a strained groin, as Cuadrat handed Xisco a start in the middle. With Rahul Bheke drafted at right-back, Harmanjot Khabra was pushed up in midfield, a position that isn’t alien to him.
Bengaluru began moving the ball around on a pristine surface and could have had a goal in the 3rd minute when Bheke found Erik Paartalu in the box, with a long throw. The Aussie turned and struck with his left, only for Karanjit Singh to parry away.
Chennaiyin had two gilt-edged chances in the space of twenty minutes, both of which could have dented the way Bengaluru went about the game, severely. Jeje Lalpekhlua drew ’keeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu out and slid the ball for an onrushing Germanpreet Singh. With nothing but an empty goal to shoot into, the angle was too acute to make the chance count.
Bengaluru dealt with the nerves rather quickly and if there was any lingering doubt, Miku dispelled it with a goal as good as they come. Xisco, with the ball at his feet after a battle in midfield was won, slid the perfect pass for Miku. Sensing he was in an off-side position, the Venezuelan was sharp enough to join the last line of defence before peeling away to play himself on-side and unleashed a hit that more than just shook the net.
Skipper Sunil Chhetri had a chance of his own late in the second half as Miku played a long diagonal that found the Blues’ number 11. Having cut inside Inigo Calderon, Chhetri chose to take one touch too many and the chance went begging as the Spaniard recovered to clear away.
Chennaiyin were lucky to finish the game with eleven men after Jerry Lalrinzuala was rather benevolently shown yellow for his sin of hacking down Udanta Singh who was through on goal with all of the defence behind him.
The Blues next take on Jamshedpur FC at the Fortress, on October 7th.