Category: Indian Super League

Bengaluru FC sign Spanish forward Manuel Onwu

Bengaluru: Indian Super League champions Bengaluru FC have completed the signing of Spanish striker Manuel Onwu Villafranca ahead of the 2019-20 season, the club announced on Wednesday.

The 31-year-old striker who becomes the 13th Spaniard to sign for the Blues, has put pen to paper on a one-year deal with the club having an option to extend it for another year.

“Having spent a fair bit of time playing in Spain, I was looking for a different experience. However, I wanted to join a strong project where we fight for ambitious goals. That’s the reason I’m very excited to join Bengaluru FC. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the club from many Spanish players in the league, and that helped me make a decision about coming here. I look forward to meeting my new teammates and hope to help the club build on their success from last season,” said Manuel after putting to paper.   

Welcoming him to the Blues fold, Coach Carles Cuadrat said, “Manuel comes in after a long playing career in Spain that includes playing at the very top. He will provide us with some good options in attack and we expect him to settle in easily. Of course, he isn’t a direct replacement for Miku, because we’re talking about two very different types of players. Manuel is a great professional, and his experiences will definitely make him a great addition to our squad.”

Born in Tudela, Manuel had youth spells with Club Atlético Valtierrano and CD Tudelano, making his senior debut with the latter in 2006. In 2007, Onwu signed with Osasuna B and had a couple of loan spells at CD Iruña (2007-08) and UD Alzira (2008) before returning to the reserve team of the La Liga side. While Manuel featured and netted regularly for Osasuna B in the Segunda B Division, he was called up to the first team and made his La Liga debut in March 2012.

Having played three seasons in the Spanish top flight and another one in the Segunda Division for Osasuna, Manuel had a brief spell in Georgia with FC Dinamo Tbilisi where he was part of the side that won the 2015 Georgian Cup. He returned to Spain the following season and featured for Lleida Esportiu (2015-16) and Lorca FC (2016-18) helping the latter to a promotion to Segunda Division in his first season. In January 2018, he moved to UCAM Murcia CF and featured regularly and in fact, was the top-scorer for theUniversitarios with 11 league goals in the 2018-19 season.

At Bengaluru, Manuel becomes the fourth Spaniard in the current squad joining Juanan Gonzalez, Dimas Delgado, and Albert Serran.

Keegan Pereira signs for Jamshedpur Football Club

Jamshedpur, April 24, 2019: Jamshedpur FC have completed the signing of Indian defender Keegan Pereira on a one-year deal. Born in Mumbai, Keegan has a pedigree of representing top tier clubs in Indian football.

Keegan primarily a left back, started his footballing journey with Mumbai FC in the I-League and is remembered for his famous winning goal against Salgaocar in Cooperage stadium. He then went on to play for Salgaocar, DSK Shivajians and Bengaluru FC with whom he went on to win the I-League twice 2013-14 and 2015-16 season and the Federation Cup twice in 2014-15 and 2016-17 season.

He started his stint in the Indian Super League with Mumbai City FC (2015) and then went on to win the coveted trophy with ATK in 2016. His last stint was with NorthEast United where he played an important role in their first ever playoffs qualification last season. Keegan has represented the national team 4 times and made his debut against Laos in 2016.

On signing with Jamshedpur FC, Keegan added, “I am looking forward to my new home Jamshedpur FC. I enjoyed playing in front of such a massive crowd at JRD Stadium last season and I hope this upcoming season they will continue to support the team and me so that together we can win silverware for the club. The facilities in Jamshedpur are excellent and I am really looking forward to visiting the city soon.

Personally, have been following Jamshedpur FC since their inception and their progress over the last two seasons have been heartening.” Jamshedpur FC, CEO, Mukul Choudhari added “Keegan is a proven talent and we are very pleased to call him a Jamshedpur FC player. He has been a key individual for all the teams he has represented throughout his career and is well accustomed to Indian Football. We are sure he will be a fantastic signing and will add great value to the team. We welcome him to Jamshedpur FC.”

ISL 5 Final: Stunning Rahul Bheke header wins title for Bengaluru FC

Mumbai: Rahul Bheke wrote the last lines in a script that saw Bengaluru FC crowned Indian Super League champions with a 1-0 win over FC Goa in the final, held at the Mumbai Football Arena, in Andheri, on Sunday. The Blues’ defenders 118th minute header from a Dimas Delgado corner sealed the title for Carles Cuadrat’s men, who secured their sixth trophies in as many seasons.

In keeping with the build-up to what was touted as a battle of equals, Cuadrat and Lobera both started with a 4-2-3-1. The Bengaluru boss paired Rahul Bheke and Juanan Gonzalez in the centre of defence, while Harmanjot Khabra dropped back from the midfield to right-back and Nishu Kumar kept his position on the left in defence. Alex Barrera, playing only his third game for the club, had Dimas Delgado for company in the midfield. In attack, the trio of Miku, Udanta Singh and Sunil Chhetri had Xisco Hernandez sitting just behind them to orchestrate chances.

The Blues had the first whiff of goal when Miku, picking a pass from Chhetri, weaved his way into the Goa box only for ’keeper Naveen Kumar to get to the ball before the Venezuelan looked set to pull the trigger. Miku had another big chance in the 26th minute when Udanta’s shot on goal ended up at his feet. The striker brought the ball under control, got past an advancing Kumar but couldn’t do much with an angle that was tight.

Goa survived the first half without conceding given Bengaluru had the better of the chances in attack, but were dealt a blow when captain Mandar Rao Dessai had to be substituted with Saviour Gama, after the left-back pulled a hamstring, with minutes to the break.

After a cautious re-start to the game, Goa began finding their feet in attack, but kept running into Gurpreet Singh Sandhu who saw off a few half-chances without much fuss. Ahmed Jahouh had the best chance, picking up a lay-off from Jackichand Singh only to see his attempt on target with the side of his foot, fly straight at Sandhu.

With a little more than twenty minutes to regulation time, Cuadrat made his first change, replacing Barrera with the more attacking Luisma Villa.

Bengaluru had the chance to stick one leg in the door when Xisco picked Miku with a deft touch in the box in the 81st minute. The striker beat the last line defence and poked past an outstretched Kumar, only to see the ball come off the post. Goa then survived another Bengaluru attack in the third minute of stoppage time when Miku looked to hook the ball beyond Kumar from in the box. But Mourtada Fall was at hand to head the attempt out for a corner as referee Taqi Jahari blew his whistle to take the final into extra time.

The first half of extra time looked like passing by with only Xisco’s rasping drive from 30 yards that Kumar kept out, worth talking about. But that was till Jahouh lashed out at Miku and caught the striker in his midriff on the follow through of a challenge. Already booked in the first half, the Moroccan midfielder was sent off by Jahari, reducing Goa to ten men with fifteen minutes to play for.

Looking to make the most of the numerical advantage, Cuadrat made his second change, bringing on winger Boithang Haokip for Nishu Kumar while also sending on Kean Lewis in place of Udanta Singh. Bengaluru broke the deadlock just two minutes from the final whistle.

Having won a corner off Gama, Dimas swung in a set piece that found Bheke unmarked in the area. In space and with time at his mercy, the defender looped a header wide and clear of Naveen in the Goa goal, as the ball shook the net off the upright to send the traveling Bengaluru supporters into delirium. Bengaluru then sent on Albert Serran in place of Xisco as Cuadrat put a lid on things to secure the Blues’ first ever Indian Super League crown.

ISL 5: Bengaluru FC take the floor with Goa for one final dance

Mumbai: It’s been touted as the perfect pick for a showpiece event by fans and neutrals alike, as Bengaluru FC take on FC Goa in an Indian Super League final that holds the promise of going down as a game for the ages. The sold-out Mumbai Football Arena will see a new ISL champion by the end of Sunday night and Blues’ Head Coach Carles Cuadrat hopes that his men come out victors in what he’s labelled as a battle of heroes.

The game also presents Bengaluru FC and FC Goa a chance at redemption after both teams fell short at the final hurdle once before. The Gaurs went down 3-2 to Chennaiyin FC in the 2015 final, while Bengaluru went down to the same opponents by the exact same scoreline in last season’s summit clash at the Kanteerava.

While results in the League stages count for little in a format that needs you to have one perfect performance if you’ve made it to the end, Bengaluru will draw confidence from the fact that they have beaten Goa both home and away, this season. The Blues nicked a 2-1 win in Fatorda early in the competition and followed it up with a rousing 3-0 defeat of Lobera’s side last month. However, Cuadrat refused to buy suggestions that the results made his side favourites ahead of Sunday’s final.

“In what is a very genuine and honest opinion, I think both teams are favourites. There are a lot of factors that go on to determine a final and as far as the build-up to it is concerned, Bengaluru and Goa have reached this moment with similar numbers on so many fronts. Both teams possess quality all over the pitch and we both like to play football that flows,” said Cuadrat, at the pre-match press conference, on Saturday.

The Blues had dominated the League stages last season only to falter in the final and Cuadrat said that while his boys were keen to set the record straight, playing without pressure will be the key. “I know my boys are eager to win titles, and this one in particular. But I want to stay calm, play well and manage the game in a way that will help us instead of putting pressure on us.”

Both, Bengaluru and Goa possess game-changing individuals all over the pitch and it could well be one of those names that decide the way the night ends.

In Ferran Corominas, Goa have the top scorer of the League (16 goals) for a second season running. And while he has struggled to show any of that form against Bengaluru, the Blues know better than to let their guard down with the Spaniard around the box. Coro has been ably supported by Brandon Fernandes on the left and Jackichand Singh on the right, in attack. The duo, relying on pace, have chipped in with vital goals and regular assists and the Bengaluru defence will have their task cut out.

But the back four on the other end of the pitch will also be making notes of their own, given they will be coming up against the attacking trio of Miku, Udanta Singh and Sunil Chhetri. The Bengaluru skipper has a penchant for turning up on the big stage and with Miku showing more than just signs of a full return to fitness and form after a long injury lay-off, Bengaluru could well be calling the shots in the battle of the final third. Udanta too has been a vital cog in Cuadrat’s wheel this season where he has scored, assisted and even tracked back to help out with defensive duties.

“Finals, in general, bring out one special performance. It’s happened in games all over the world. Some players shine spectacularly in big games. We have players like Sunil, Gurpreet, Udanta and many others who can shine. The problem tomorrow is that Goa also have many players who can have a great game. Let’s see what happens, hopefully we can stop the Goa players from being heroes,” said Cuadrat.

The teams had contrasting routes to the final. While Goa romped home with a 5-2 aggregate win Goa, Bengaluru overturned a 2-1 deficit at the Kanteerava to go through 4-2 on aggregate against NorthEast United. And the Blues know well enough that they will have to dig deep and come up with another inspired performance in Mumbai on Sunday if they are to lay the ghost of last season to rest.

ISL 5: Goa set final date with Bengaluru despite loss against Mumbai

GOA: FC Goa booked their place in the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2018-19 final despite a 0-1 loss in the second leg of their semi-final encounter against Mumbai City FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Goa on Tuesday. The Gaurs’ 5-1 victory in the first leg in Mumbai ensured their progression to the grand finale on March 17 with a 5-2 aggregate scoreline.

Goa will face off against Bengaluru FC for the title on Sunday at the Mumbai Football Arena.

Mumbai needed an early goal to have any chance of overturning the massive 5-1 first leg deficit and Rafael Bastos did exactly that on the 6th minute. Arnold Issoko rode a challenge, carried the ball forward and rolled the ball in perfectly for an onrushing Rafael Bastos. The Brazilian calmly slotted it in to open the scoring. Incidentally, it was the same Issoko-Bastos combination which led to the first goal of the first leg at Mumbai.

Goa, however, didn’t look even slightly rattled by the early goal and continued to exhibit their attacking brand of football, pressing high for an equaliser. Despite trailing the possession stats in the early stages, the Islanders carved out another big opportunity on the 23rd minute. Ahmed Jahouh, uncharacteristically, kept hold of the ball for a little too long, allowing Bastos to nick possession. The Brazilian sent Modou Sougou through on goal. Goa goalkeeper Naveen Kumar came out quickly to block the striker’s effort and Mourtada Fall swept up after him to clear the danger. The Mumbai players appealed for a handball by Fall, but the referee wasn’t interested.

After the 25-minute mark, the balance of the match switched towards Mumbai as the Islanders upped the ante and started pushing the Gaurs on the back foot. With Jahouh picking up a yellow card, the Moroccan was taken off on the 39th minute to avoid a second booking, which would have ruled him out of the final. Edu Bedia came on in his place.

Goa did manage to wrestle back the reins in the final 10 minutes of the first period, but the half ended with the away team one goal to the good.

The home team started as the brighter of the two sides in the second half, with Ferran Corominas getting an early look at goal. But his shot from distance was dealt with Amrinder Singh without too much difficulty. On the 56th minute, Coro found himself on the end of another opportunity to grab the equaliser, this time from inside the box. The Spaniard’s shot, however, came off the crossbar.

The Gaurs kept up the pressure, pegging the Mumbai defence back and even had a penalty claim turned down after Anwar Ali seemed to have blocked off Hugo Boumous inside the box.

With the clock ticking down, Mumbai created a few chances of their own to score. First, Sougou’s shot eluded the far post by inches and then Naveen Kumar pulled off a brilliant save to keep out substitute Matias Mirabaje’s dipping free kick. Sougou did get a second bite of the cherry from the rebound but blasted it high.

ISL 5: Bengaluru leave it late to send NorthEast United packing

Bengaluru: Bengaluru – the football club and the city – rose to the occasion yet again, as Carles Cuadrat’s men beat NorthEast United and the odds to make it to the final of the Indian Super League for a second successive season. Talismanic striker Miku made amends for a string of missed chances in the first half, with a goal (72nd), before Dimas Delgado got one for himself to turn the aggregate in the Blues’ favour. (87’). Sunil Chhetri (90+2’) then added one for good measure as Bengaluru ran out 3-0 winners on the night, to progress to the final with a 4-2 aggregate scoreline.

In a bid to accommodate Xisco Hernandez in the midfield behind Miku, Cuadrat pulled Harmanjot Khabra from the middle and drafted him at the right-back position, while Rahul Bheke joined Juanan in the centre of defence, ahead of Albert Serran, who dropped to the bench.

NorthEast United, meanwhile, chose to start with striker Juan Mascia and midfielder Fanai Lalrempuia in place of Bartholomew Ogbeche and Rowllin Borges – both of who picked up hamstring injuries in Guwahati. Eelco Schattorie, however, had to deal with a situation minutes from kick-off after his captain and left-back, Robert Lalthlamuana pulled out with an injury during warm-ups. The Dutchman was left with little choice but to replace Lalthlamuana with former Bengaluru man, Keegan Pereira.

Knowing exactly what’s needed of them, and with a clock to beat, the Blues put the NorthEast defence to the sword without allowing the visitors any room to settle. But it was a half where Bengaluru, and Miku in particular, inexplicably failed to stick the ball in the back of the net, not once, but three times. The Venezuelan striker first headed an in-swinging cross from Nishu Kumar wide, then minutes later fired over after Udanta Singh picked him with the perfect cut-back in the box. But it was the third miss that had the Kanteerava gasp in collective disbelief. In what would have been the goal of the season, Miku magically weaved past five red shirts and found himself with only Pawan Kumar to beat, before shooting tamely and straight at the NorthEast ’keeper.

Bengaluru began the second half with as much urgency, pushing the visitors to concede a flurry of corners. If Miku missed what could have been the goal of the season, a blinding save by Pawan denied Nishu his entry to the contest in the 51st minute. Picking up a clearance from the NorthEast box, Nishu smashed the ball that flew like an arrow towards the goal, only for Pawan to tip it over while in full flight.

With a little more than twenty minutes left on the clock, Cuadrat took his first gamble, pulling off Juanan Gonzalez for Luisma Villa and Bengaluru would find the net only moments later. Bringing down a lob over from Dimas, Xisco played the pass back to Udanta, who swung a cross into the area that Miku met with the deftest of touches. Flicking it with the outside of his right ankle, the Venezuelan sent the ball far past the reach of Pawan and shot Bengaluru into the lead. Earlier, NorthEast United were dealt a blow as Uruguayan striker Federico Gallego was stretchered off after his attempt to block Miku’s shot.

With the scoreline enough to send Bengaluru through to the final, Cuadrat sent on Serran to replace Xisco, adding reinforcements at the back. But the Blues refused to sit back and added another just 15 minutes later through Dimas. Set free on the counter, Udanta turned on his turbos to skip past Keegan and then send a cross that Pawan could only tip onto his bar. With the ball bouncing back into play, Dimas arrived to place his shot past Pawan and double the Blues’ advantage.

With six minutes of time added on, NorthEast looked to score a goal to take the tie into extra time, and the Blues took advantage of the visitors’ high line once again. Chhetri, regaining possession in midfield, played a quick give-and-go with Miku to beat the offside trap and run through on goal. Up against Pawan and with time on his hands, Chhetri feinted once and pushed the ball past the advancing NorthEast custodian, and then slotted home to make it 3-0 on the night and send Bengaluru through to the final.

Bengaluru will face one of Mumbai City FC or FC Goa in the showpiece event, set to take place at the Mumbai Football Arena, on March 17th.

ISL 5: Stage set for a fightback at the Fortress

Stage set for a fightback at the Fortress

Bengaluru FC Confident Of Overturning 2-1 Deficit As NorthEast United Stand Between Cuadrat’s Boys And A Spot In The ISL Final

Bengaluru: In what is now a familiar script, it all comes down to a Monday night at the Fortress where Bengaluru FC have their task cut out against NorthEast United, who stand in the way of the Blues and a second successive appearance in the final of the Indian Super League. A 2-1 defeat away from home means Eelco Schattorie-coached NorthEast United come to the Fortress with an advantage, but it’s one that Carles Cuadrat believes his Blues can negate with the whole city backing them.

The late goal in Guwahati might have given the visitors an edge, but the tie is far from over and comes down to three straight equations. The simplest result the Blues will need to make the final is a 1-0 win, thanks to Xisco Hernandez’s goal away from home. Should the Blues win 2-1, extra time and then penalties – if needed – will decide the game. Finally, should NorthEast United score two goals or more, the Blues will need to win the tie by a two-goal margin to book a ticket to the showpiece event in Mumbai.

“We’re ready for the big game. The mood in the dressing room is good and the feeling all around is that we can give the fans one of those famous nights at the Kanteerava, like we have done in the past. We did it against JDT in the AFC Cup and then against FC Pune City in last year’s semifinal. We believe that with the help of the city, we can deliver another special night that won’t be forgotten soon,” said Cuadrat, while addressing the media on Sunday.

The Blues will bank on their experience of being involved in two-legged knock-out fixtures in the past. Bengaluru famously beat Malaysian side Johor 3-1 at home after drawing 1-1 in the away leg, and became the first Indian side to make the AFC Cup final. Pitted against FC Pune City in the semifinal of the ISL last season, the Blues played out a goalless draw in Pune, before quelling the visitors’ challenge with a 3-1 result at home. Cuadrat will hope that the familiarity of the situation will give his team the confidence needed to get the job done once again.

Bengaluru will also bank on their flawless form at home, where they haven’t lost a game this season. The Kanteerava has been a Fortress in every sense of the term where the Blues have won six games and drawn three in the league stages of the competition. In another encouraging statistic, Bengaluru have always found the back of the net at the Kanteerava this season, and there won’t be a better time than Monday night, to extend that record.

On the possibility of the game going into extra time, Cuadrat said he was confident that his team would pull through if the equation came down to that. “I cannot predict what will unfold tomorrow, but what I certain of is that we will be competitive throughout. If circumstances take the game to extra time, I have a feeling we can get the job done,” he said.

NorthEast suffered a double blow on Thursday when their talismanic striker Bartholomew Ogbeche and influential midfielder Rowllin Borges suffered hamstring injuries in the first leg in Guwahati. Barring a medical miracle, the duo look certain to miss the second leg in Bengaluru. Ogbeche has been NorthEast’s star, scoring twelve times this season, while Borges has commanded the midfield with confidence. Schattorie brought on Juan Mascia and Nikhil Kadam to replace Ogbeche and Borges respectively, and it needs to be seen if the Dutchman chooses to start with them in the reverse fixture.

The game kicks off at 7.30 pm and will be telecast live on the STAR Sports Network, Colors Kannada TV, Hotstar and JioTV.

ISL 5: Goa put Mumbai to the sword in the first leg of their semi-final

MUMBAI: Despite going a goal behind on the 20th minute, FC Goa stormed to a 5-1 victory over Mumbai City FC in the first leg of their semi-final clash at the Mumbai Football Arena on Saturday. The result means the Gaurs take a four-goal advantage into the second leg in Goa and leaves the Islanders with a mountain to climb.

The Islanders started the match with intent and denied Goa players any time on the ball, pressing them relentlessly and trying to force mistakes. Ahmed Jahouh, in particular, was singled out as multiple Mumbai players descended on the Moroccan whenever he got on possession. Mumbai also did look the more threatening of the two sides while going forward in the early stages and were creating some dangerous chances.

On the 20th minute, the Islanders finally reaped the fruits of their bright start and went on to take the lead through Rafael Bastos. Arnold Issoko went on one of his trademark runs down the right flank, checked back, and floated in a teasing cross with the outside of his boot at the far post. Bastos made sure he ghosted in past the Goa defence undetected and tapped it in past Naveen Kumar.

The goal triggered a response from the Gaurs who began showing a little more urgency. In face of Goa’s wave after wave of attacks, Mumbai’s resistance lasted for just 11 minutes. Ferran Corominas hit a low shot towards goal, forcing a quick block from Amrinder Singh. But the Mumbai custodian’s save was a tad indecisive, giving Jackichand Singh the opportunity to score the equaliser from the follow up. Interestingly, it was FC Goa’s 150th goal in the Hero ISL. No other team has scored more, with Chennaiyin FC being the second-highest scorer with 126.

The 151st would soon follow. The Mumbai defence made the grave error of letting Brandon Fernandes’ corner bounce inside the box and Mourtada Fall was at hand to capitalize. The defender buried his diving header into the net to give Goa the advantage.

The Islanders came close to finding an equaliser of their own minutes before the half-time whistle. The ball fell kindly for Modou Sougou near the six-yard box after a Paulo Machado free-kick and the striker took a stab at it. With the shot seemingly destined for the goal, Naveen instinctively stuck out a leg to deny Sougou.

Seconds later, both Naveen and Sougou were involved in another big moment of the match. The Senegalese striker took advantage of Naveen’s inability to cleanly collect Bastos’ shot and seemed to have scored the leveller in the dying seconds of the first half. The celebrations at the Mumbai Football Arena were, however, cut short as the linesman signalled for offside.

The first 45 minutes ended with the away side 2-1 up.

Shortly after the restart, things got worse for the home team. Jackichand found himself in possession down the right and hung up a teasing cross at the far post. Corominas was the quickest to react and met the cross with a diving header to make it 3-1 in Goa’s favour. It was the Spaniard’s 16th goal of the season.

The Gaurs were relentless in their quest to increase their lead even further and made it 4-1 just seven minutes later. Fall bulldozed through the Islanders defence to meet a corner and directed his header past Amrinder to score his second of the night.

Mumbai players tried their best to reduce the deficit and had a golden opportunity on the 74th minute. Lucian Goian found himself unmarked from a corner but miraculously failed to keep his header on target.

Substitute Hugo Boumous set up Brandon for Goa’s fifth with a lovely threaded through ball on the 82nd minute. The youngster found himself one-vs-one against the goalkeeper and beat Amrinder at his near post with a meticulously placed shot.

The Islanders created a couple of opportunities to pull a goal back before the full time whistle, but some good goalkeeping by Naveen made sure the scoreline was unchanged.

ISL 5: Bengaluru go down 2-1 in NorthEast as Mascia scores late winner

Guwahati: Bengaluru FC are faced with a familiar prospect of having to finish the job at the Fortress after Carles Cuadrat’s men went down 2-1 to NorthEast United in the first leg of the Indian Super League semifinal, played at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium, in Guwahati, on Thursday.

A late penalty from Juan Mascia (94’) separated the two sides after substitute Xisco Hernandez (81’) had cancelled out Redeem Tlang’s (20’) opener in what was a game of fine margins, leaving the second leg to be played at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium tantalizingly poised.

Cuadrat chose to start the game with new signing Alex Barrera who slotted in as a defensive midfielder in a 4-1-4-1 formation. Albert Serran, having missed the games against Goa and Jamshedpur, returned to join Juanan Gonzalez in the centre of defence. Miku, while playing the lone striker, had Udanta Singh and Sunil Chhetri in the four-man midfield just behind him.

What seemed like a measured start to the game, changed complexion when Tlang fired NorthEast to the lead in the 20th minute. Picking a pass from Bartholomew Ogbeche who switched play to the right, Tlang took a touch before curling in at the far post with his left.

Bengaluru came very close to making amends minutes later when ‘keeper Pawan Kumar spilled the ball in trying to collect Dimas Delgado’s strike from distance, but recovered just in time to beat Miku’s charge to it. The striker had another chance in the 37th minute when he brought down Delgado’s take from the corner, only to sky his shot over.

NorthEast finished the half without Ogbeche and started the second without Rowllin Borges as injuries forced Eelco Schattorie to throw in Mascia and Nikhil Kadam as replacements.

Cuadrat’s first change, meanwhile, was tactical as he brought on Xisco for Serran at the hour mark in a bid to chase that important goal away from home. With Xisco in attack, Bengaluru began pushing NorthEast to defend deep. The Blues kept winning set-pieces but struggled to make an aspect of the game that they’re lethal with, count.

With ten minutes left to play, Bengaluru found the equalizer with some neat interplay inside the box. Chhetri, fed through inside the area by Miku, feinted once and then again before squaring for an arriving Xisco, who placed the ball past Pawan for his first goal in Bengaluru blue.

There was more drama deep into injury time as referee Santosh Kumar pointed to the spot, adjudging Khabra to have brought down substitute Mascia inside the area. The NorthEast striker then sent his penalty past Gurpreet Singh Sandhu to hand the hosts the lead once again, in what would be the final action of the game.

The second leg of the Indian Super League semifinal between NorthEast United and Bengaluru FC will be played at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Monday, March 11.

ISL 5: Cracker on the cards as Bengaluru face off against NorthEast United

Guwahati, Assam: The slate has been wiped clean and the margins get finer as Bengaluru FC take on NorthEast United FC in the first leg of the Indian Super League semifinal, to be played at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium, in Guwahati, on Thursday. Carles Cuadrat’s men find themselves at this stage of the competition for the second year running and while the Blues’ Spanish boss lauded his team’s consistency, he said the league season would be down to three good games from here.

“It’s very clear for us at this point. To win this competition, we have to get the best from these play-off games. I think we have shown a lot of consistency because we have been at the top of the table for a lot of weeks. Across the last two seasons, we have claimed 74 points and finished on top both times, but it counts for nothing if we lose in the play-offs or the final,” said Cuadrat, addressing the media ahead of the game.

The Blues claimed a 1-1 draw through a late equalizer from Chencho Gyeltshen, when the sides faced off in Guwahati, in December. The Bhutanese winger, who is currently on loan to NEROCA FC, was on the scoresheet once again when Bengaluru claimed a 2-1 win against the Highlanders in the reverse fixture. Bengaluru haven’t won on the road since the turn of the year, but Cuadrat denied that his side had a bad run of form.

“I have been hearing a lot of people saying that Bengaluru are not in a good form at the moment. But, since Christmas, we have won two games; which is the same as NorthEast and Mumbai. Goa, who were the only team that seemed to be in a good dynamic, came to Bengaluru and we beat them with 10 men; that’s football. I do not believe that we are having a bad run of form,” said the Spaniard.

The Blues will be without the services of defender Gursimrat Singh Gill, who picked up a suspension in the final League game against Jamshedpur FC, and Erik Paartalu, who has been ruled out for the rest of the season. Spanish midfielder Alex Barrera, who replaced the Australian on a short-term deal last week, may feature in Cuadrat’s plans for tomorrow.

“We earned the privilege of resting and preserving a few players because we won a lot of points in the initial stages of the tournament. I wanted to arrive to the final stages without any problems, but we lost Erik to an injury, which is a big blow because he is a very important player in midfield. And also, we will miss Gursimrat,” added Cuadrat. However, the Spaniard said that most players on his squad had found themselves in semifinal games before and he hoped the experience would count for the Blues.

NorthEast, meanwhile, will be without central defender Gurwinder Singh through suspension, but will welcome back Colombian midfielder Jose Leudo who returns back to the fold after serving a one-game suspension for a red card against FC Pune City.

Bengaluru will be buoyed by their record in semifinal clashes, having progressed to the final each of the four times in domestic competitions. While the Blues claimed a 3-1 aggregate win over FC Pune City to reach the final last season, NorthEast United will be making their maiden appearance in the Indian Super League play-offs.

Schattorie’s side have conceded the least number of goals (18) in the League phase, and have been reliant on strikers Bartholomew Ogbeche and Federico Gallego, who have 16 goals between them in the League phase. The Blues will have to be wary of Gallego especially, who scored both of NorthEast’s goals when the two sides met in the League stages.

The game kicks off at 7.30 pm and will be telecast live on the STAR Sports Network, Colors Kannada TV, Hotstar and JioTV, while live screening of the game will be held at Church Street Social.