Bengaluru FC delivered when it mattered in AFC Cup

Bengaluru FC Abahani Limited AFC Cup 2018
Bengaluru FC
Bengaluru managed to conclude their 2017-18 football season on an exciting note as they secured qualification to the knockouts of the 2018 AFC Cup...

After playing more than 30 matches, Bengaluru FC concluded their 2017-18 football season in style with a 4-0 victory against Abahani Dhaka in their final AFC Cup 2018 group game. 

The win takes Albert Roca's well-knit team into the semifinals of the inter-zone playoffs where tougher challenges await. But for now, it's a job extremely well done. 

In their first-ever Indian Super League (ISL) season, Bengaluru topped the league standings and lost to Chennaiyin FC in the final. A month later, they made it to the final in the Super Cup. Only this time, they weren't ready to return without a trophy. They comfortably defeated East Bengal in the final to clinch the inaugural Super Cup. Since their inception in 2013, the Blues have won at least one trophy every season. 

Albert Roca and the coaching staff deserve a lot of credit for managing the fixtures extremely well. Even when his colleagues complained about fixture congestion, Roca focused on utilizing his full squad and getting the best out of every player. His side has played 14 matches in the Asian tournament since May 2017 - that's at least 14 fixtures more than every other Indian club except Aizawl FC.

AFC Cup 2018 Bengaluru FC Aizawl FC

To tackle the fixture list, Roca made full use of his squad, especially during the ISL season. AFC Cup teamsheets did not have Sunil Chhetri, Miku or Gurpreet Singh in the early round of fixtures. Instead, players such as Boithang Haokip, Thongkhosiem Haokip, Malsawmzuala, Lalthuammawia Ralte continued to start in the AFC Cup games. Bengaluru FC were effectively able to use two different lineups in the league and Asian competition.

Goalkeeper Ralte and full-back Nishu Kumar have started every single AFC Cup game for the club this year. Both these players had considerably fewer first-team minutes in ISL (180 and 338 minutes respectively) and they have both delivered. Seven of Ralte's 10 starts this year have resulted in clean sheets. Nishu Kumar picked up three goals, two of which came on Wednesday against Abahani Dhaka to seal the team's qualification to the knockouts. 

New Radiant Bengaluru FC AFC Cup

Sunil Chhetri has ended the season as Bengaluru's top goalscorer for the fifth consecutive time. The Blues are yet to see someone else score as many goals as Chhetri ever since the club came into existence. While the skipper has largely made way for youngsters in AFC Cup this year, he still has two goals and six assists to his name in just four appearances (of which one was as a second-half substitute).

On Wednesday, the Indian national team striker served three goals on a plate for his teammates. He then scored the fourth and the game ended 4-0. The Abahani defence had no answer to the 33-year-old striker's sheer urge to make every minute count on the football field. And even in his absence during most part of the AFC Cup campaign, the attitude and mentality have clearly rubbed off on the rest of the squad. 

Yes, Bengaluru needed a favour from Aizawl in the final round of fixtures in Group E. And they did get the result they wanted. But what will always matter is that the Asian dream has not ended for Bengaluru FC.