Bengaluru FC 3 – NorthEast United 0 (Bengaluru Win 4-2 On Aggregate)
1) Blues Quality Shines Through In The End
Even if they are only in their second season in the Indian Super League, Bengaluru’s previous experience in clutch situations came to the fore as they overcame a gritty NorthEast side in front of their raucous supporters at the Kanteerava stadium. Miku missed three golden opportunities to put the Blues ahead before deflecting the toughest chance presented to him past Pawan Kumar with a quarter of the game remaining. Sunil Chhetri finally got his first shot at goal in four outings against the Highlanders in the 92ndminute and while that sealed the result, it was yet another quiet night for the skipper. The stars of the evening were Udanta Singh, who tormented Keegan Pereira on the right flank, and Dimas Delgado, who made light of Erik Paartalu’s absence and won the midfield battle for his side. It was fitting that they combined for the second goal which eased Bengaluru’s nerves. In a game that threatened to boil over at times, they were the coolest operators on the park.
2) Squad Depth Exposed At Worst Time For The Highlanders
NorthEast went into this season with possibly the weakest squad on paper, and it is to Eelco Schattorie’s credit that the team still managed to make the playoffs. Injuries to Augustine Okrah and Rehenesh Paramba early in the campaign was followed by one to Mislav Komorski, a big part of the team’s success in the first half of the season. Body blows were to follow in the first leg of this tie as both top scorer, Bartholomew Ogbeche, and Rowllin Borges limped off at halftime. It is to the Highlanders’ enormous credit that they kept plugging away and arrived in Bengaluru with a lead. Misfortune continued to follow them however and left-back, Robert Lalthlamuana, pulled up injured during the warm-up. He had kept Udanta quiet all season and as gamely as Keegan tried, Bengaluru had the outlet they needed. The fight did not leave the side even when their best player over both legs, Federico Gallego, was carried off the field with a season ending injury. Down to their bare bones, it was only when their opponent’s quality came through in the end that NorthEast were beaten, and it was an unfortunate end to what has been a brilliant campaign.
FC Goa 0 – Mumbai City FC 1 (Goa Win 5-2 On Aggregate)
3) Gaurs Do Just Enough To Seal Place In Final
Goa confirmed their participation in this season’s final with a victory that had seemed inevitable even before the match began. Sergio Lobera and his team made all the right noises in their pre-match interviews suggesting nothing was being taken for granted but all the damage had been done in the first leg, and a miracle looked remote. Even when they fell behind early, Goa seemed assured in possession and there was always an extra man staying deep to ensure that Mumbai’s counter-attacks were protected against. Safe in the knowledge that it was the Islanders who needed to chase the game, the Gaurs did not press in customary waves of attacks for an equalizer and saw out the tie. It was only their second home defeat of the season, but nobody minded too much as the referee wound down the game. There was a first final since 2015 to look forward to.
4) Curtain Comes Down On Excellent Campaign For Mumbai
To their eternal credit, Jorge Costa’s men gave this match a proper go. For the second game in a row, the outside of Arnold Issoko’s right foot and Rafael Bastos combined to give Mumbai an early lead. But while Goa were kept from pumping in goal after goal this time around, the Islanders could not add to their tally themselves and bowed out of the tournament. Teams had begun to sort Mumbai out by the second half of the season and they never really came up with the answers in the playoffs. Fittingly, the better team over the two legs made it through to the final, but Mumbai’s energy and doggedness on the night typified their season and they have much to be proud of. More tellingly, Bengaluru probably heaved a huge sigh of relief at the result. No one has troubled them more this season than Modou Sougou and company.