In what is now a familiar script, it all comes down to a Monday night at the Fortress where Bengaluru FC have their task cut out against NorthEast United, who stand in the way of the Blues and a second successive appearance in the final of the Indian Super League. A 2-1 defeat away from home means Eelco Schattorie-coached NorthEast United come to the Fortress with an advantage, but it’s one that Carles Cuadrat believes his Blues can negate with the whole city backing them.
The late goal in Guwahati might have given the visitors an edge, but the tie is far from over and comes down to three straight equations. The simplest result the Blues will need to make the final is a 1-0 win, thanks to Xisco Hernandez’s goal away from home. Should the Blues win 2-1, extra time and then penalties – if needed – will decide the game. Finally, should NorthEast United score two goals or more, the Blues will need to win the tie by a two-goal margin to book a ticket to the showpiece event in Mumbai.
“We’re ready for the big game. The mood in the dressing room is good and the feeling all around is that we can give the fans one of those famous nights at the Kanteerava, like we have done in the past. We did it against JDT in the AFC Cup and then against FC Pune City in last year’s semifinal. We believe that with the help of the city, we can deliver another special night that won’t be forgotten soon,” said Cuadrat, while addressing the media on Sunday.
The Blues will bank on their experience of being involved in two-legged knock-out fixtures in the past. Bengaluru famously beat Malaysian side Johor 3-1 at home after drawing 1-1 in the away leg, and became the first Indian side to make the AFC Cup final. Pitted against FC Pune City in the semifinal of the ISL last season, the Blues played out a goalless draw in Pune, before quelling the visitors’ challenge with a 3-1 result at home. Cuadrat will hope that the familiarity of the situation will give his team the confidence needed to get the job done once again.
Bengaluru will also bank on their flawless form at home, where they haven’t lost a game this season. The Kanteerava has been a Fortress in every sense of the term where the Blues have won six games and drawn three in the league stages of the competition. In another encouraging statistic, Bengaluru have always found the back of the net at the Kanteerava this season, and there won’t be a better time than Monday night, to extend that record.
On the possibility of the game going into extra time, Cuadrat said he was confident that his team would pull through if the equation came down to that. “I cannot predict what will unfold tomorrow, but what I certain of is that we will be competitive throughout. If circumstances take the game to extra time, I have a feeling we can get the job done,” he said.
NorthEast suffered a double blow on Thursday when their talismanic striker Bartholomew Ogbeche and influential midfielder Rowllin Borges suffered hamstring injuries in the first leg in Guwahati. Barring a medical miracle, the duo look certain to miss the second leg in Bengaluru. Ogbeche has been NorthEast’s star, scoring twelve times this season, while Borges has commanded the midfield with confidence. Schattorie brought on Juan Mascia and Nikhil Kadam to replace Ogbeche and Borges respectively, and it needs to be seen if the Dutchman chooses to start with them in the reverse fixture.
The game kicks off at 7.30 pm and will be telecast live on the STAR Sports Network, Colors Kannada TV, Hotstar and JioTV.