The stage is set for semi-finals of the Indian Super League (ISL) 2017-18. FC Pune City will face Bengaluru FC while FC Goa have drawn Chennaiyin FC in the last four knock-outs which will be two-legged ties played on a home and away basis.
On March 7, The Blues from Bengaluru will face The Orange Army from Maharashtra. Albert Roca’s team finished as league leaders while Ranko Popovic and co. sealed the fourth spot in the rankings. While Bengaluru have been termed ‘title favourites’ throughout the 2017-18 season, past records show that table toppers have never succeeded in clinching the ultimate glory.
In 2014 and 2016, ATK (then Atletico de Kolkata) were crowned champions when Chennaiyin FC and Mumbai City FC were the table toppers in the respective seasons. Chennaiyin were title winners in 2015 but yet again it wasn’t them who were at the top of the points table. FC Goa, then coached by Arthur Antunes Coimbra, better known as Zico had amassed the most points during the league stage.
In the last three editions of the competition, a third-placed side has won the title twice and a fourth-placed team has clinched it once. This proves that the performance of the league phase does not really guarantee further success. Much of the reason behind this is the intensity of the knockout matches which piles pressure on the teams. However, it would be foolish to rule out Bengaluru’s chances for the trophy based on past statistics alone.
The Eagles have cruised to the top of the table. The Bengaluru outfit recorded a winning percentage of 72.2 per cent in their debut ISL season. Also, they sit eight points adrift second-placed Chennaiyin and 10 points off FC Goa and FC Pune City at the third and fourth place respectively.
The two-time I-League and Federation Cup winners have one of the most balanced squads in the league. Bengaluru have registered a total of seven clean-sheets with custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu leading as the finest goalkeeper. They have conceded a goal per 106.62 minutes, regarded the best in the league.
Stalwart Miku has been firing in front of the goal as the Venezuelan has 14 goals to boast, second-best to Ferran Corominas’ 18 so far. Not too far behind is skipper Sunil Chhetri, with 10 goals in his pocket. The Indian international however is the joint-leader in having most shots on target (37) with Goa’s fan favourite Coro.
The numbers do not lie and after their win against Jamshedpur on February 25, they also set the record for having beaten every team in the tournament.
A semi-final battle can be crucial but Bengaluru aren’t new to this. Having performed at the continental level, grabbing the runners-up medal in the 2015-16 AFC Cup, the Blues are well-versed at handling pressure.
So, can Bengaluru break the jinx by becoming the first team to win after finishing as league leaders? Consistency, balance and perseverance emerge as reasons for the answer to be a resounding yes.