There was very little to separate Bengaluru FC and FC Goa in the final of Season 5 of the Indian Super League, but in the end, Rahul Bheke's superb header in the extra-time sealed the tie and the championship for Carles Cuadrat's side. While Bheke's goal stood out in the final for the obvious reasons, it was his team's defending that frustrated Sergio Lobera's attacking side, proving to be a decisive factor in the match.
Skipper Sunil Chhetri, who didn't have a great game in front of the goal, did an outstanding defensive job when his team didn't have the ball. Even Udanta Singh dropped back when Goa were on the move, stifling space for the attacking team. In the post-match press conference, Chhetri spoke about how hard the team worked on their defending and why it was all worth it.
"We made sure that when the attack in finished, we come back and defend. We cannot not do this against a team like Goa. It was paramount for us and that was the message from the coach. For players like me, Miku and Udanta (Singh), it's not easy because we are attack-minded people," Chhetri said.
He added, "I'm really happy that we did it. Because Nishu (Kumar) and (Harmanjot) Khabra get that security when me and Udanta come back."
Closing down spaces against Goa attackers was the plan right from the beginning and Chhetri lauded his team's efforts in performing the task to perfection. FC Goa's Ferran Corominas, the most lethal striker in the league, did not get much freedom to make an impact.
"You cannot give much space to Goa. They are a free-flowing team and they can switch on whenever they want. It's commendable when a player like Coro can't get open chances against us in three games. It's just tells you how much importance he (coach) gives to making sure we come back and defend. That's the reason why we have won the trophy."
In the last ISL final, Bengaluru lost the game against Chennaiyin, missing out on the chance to win the trophy in their first season in ISL. But they made sure they learnt from their mistakes and not repeat them this time around. Against Chennaiyin in last year's final, it was the set-pieces that proved costly for Bengaluru. But on Sunday, it was Bheke's header from a corner that handed the trophy to Bengaluru.
"We really had to work hard (for set-piece defending) under this guy (Cuadrat). We assigned one and half days for set-pieces. He had told us " and it's a fact " that every five out of 10 goals is scored from set-pieces. Last year in the final, till the time we conceded, we were dominant. We didn't want the same thing to happen today. Going forward and defensively, we have really worked hard on set-pieces and it's not just chance in the final that we have won because of a set-piece," Chhetri said.
Chhetri also pointed out how this year Bengaluru FC, under Cuadrat, became a more progressive side without any significant alterations to the team that played under previous coach Albert Roca.
"Character wise, it was almost the same team. The coaching was slightly different. The planning is the same and they both have the same mentality. He (Cuadrat) has own way of doing stuff, which is slightly different. That's why we were very happy because we didn't have to learn something new in the school. When we went to the school this year, everything was more or less the same, but he had his own minute detailing." Chhetri added, "The whole coaching staff worked really, really hard and on a overall note, it was more progressive as to what we have done under Roca and now under Carles."
Interestingly, Cuadrat revealed how Bengaluru players wanted him as the coach after Roca resigned due to personal issues and he was glad that he took the decision to manage the team.
"When Albert decided to go because of his family issues, the players spoke to the management and said I can do the job. Because I took the responsibility, they have to do what I asked them to do. So I have to say that from the first day, players believed in my way. I have been demanding a lot from them this season," Cuadrat said.
Chhetri, later, featured in a Twitter video by Bengaluru FC, where he said why the players thought Cuadrat would be the right successor for Roca.
"He has been here since last three years. That sad day when I was told that Albert Roca will not continue, I was part of the meeting where we thought we will request Carles to come in and take the reins from Roca. There were no two ways, it was very simple. A guy who was instrumental with Roca and has similar mentality should be given a chance, and he has come out with flying colours. He's a top, top, top guy to have in the team, very knowledgeable, technically very sharp and a great human being," Chhetri said.
" Bengaluru FC (@bengalurufc) March 17, 2019