Making it to the final in back-to-back seasons is no small feat and Bengaluru FC
The Blues have looked considerably more beatable and vulnerable this season compared to last but once again, the fight in the squad came to the forefront as they broke NorthEast United's hearts. Eelco Schattorie's men, hurt by injuries to key players, were beaten fair and square on aggregate over two legs of semi-final football.
NorthEast United were on the backfoot even before the game had begun. Bartholomew Ogbeche and Rowllin Borges were two of the three best players for the Highlanders this season. Federico Gallego, who completed the top three, had to be stretchered off due to bad injury in the second half. In fact, Robert Lalthlamuana picked up an injury during the warm-up ahead of the second leg.
Bengaluru had plenty of chances to score in the first half and Miku's profligacy was shocking. A good cross from Nishu Kumar and a cut back from Udanta Singh needed only a simple close-range finish and the Venezeulan strike made a hash out of both these chances. It was almost as if it was written in the stars for underdogs NorthEast United after the first half came to an end.
It wasn't a one-sided affair by any means but absence of key players certainly and understandably restricted NorthEast's movements in the attacking third. They were forced to sit back and counter, similar to the second half of the first leg.
When a striker misses easy chances in a crucial game, some players go into a shell and drift out of the game but that's not Miku. He kept knocking on the doors with clever movement off the ball and finally scored in the 72nd minute. An Udanta Singh cross from the right was deftly guided into the back of the net.
It wasn't the one-goal lead that forced NorthEast United to desperately chase the game, it was the away goal conceded in the first leg that came back to haunt them. Miku's goal was enough for the Blues to go through to the final.
Wide players have been NorthEast's trump card all season, with Reagan Singh, Redeem Tlang, Gallego all working hard on the flanks. However, Gallego's injury shut down NorthEast's exploits in the attacking third and the break in play as the player was taken away in an ambulance that had to enter the field completely unsettled the visitors.
Dimas Delgado hit one late in the game and Sunil Chhetri followed suit in added time to seal the deal and in the end, the visitors looked mentally and physically exhausted to get back into the game.
Both teams have done well this season. Bengaluru turned up in big games and NorthEast United fought gallantly with their backs to the wall.