A new chapter in Bengaluru FC’s short history was written as they took on Maziya S&RC in their opening AFC Cup group stage fixture. In an entertaining game, Bengaluru FC dominated proceedings but failed to make it pay owing largely to some profligate finishing. Arnab Ray explores just how the home side made an encouraging AFC Cup debut.
While the AFC Champions League remains a peak yet to be scaled by an Indian club, Asia’s 2nd tier competition the AFC Cup has been a bit more accommodating. Indian clubs have tasted a certain amount of success in the recent past in the AFC Cup with East Bengal notably making it to the semi-finals in the 2013 edition, losing to eventual winners Al-Kuwait.
Having failed to overcome Malaysian side JDT in the Champions League qualifier, Bengaluru FC dropped into the AFC Cup and started their campaign against Maldives side Maziya Sports and Recreation Club at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium. Both coaches admitted that they weren’t perhaps quite sure what to expect from their opponents heading into the game. As a result both sides stuck to their respective game plans as they looked to make a positive start to their campaigns.
Maziya S&RC were set-up in a conventional 4-2-3-1 and contrary to the traditional approach of away teams looked to take the game to Bengaluru FC. They weren’t shy of committing men in attack and pressed high throughout the first half in order to stifle the home side. The below graphic shows the general pressing scheme of the away side. The striker and the 3 attacking midfielders behind him were quick to try and intercept the ball high up the pitch when not in possession. In addition to the 4 attacking players, one of the 2 deeper midfielders joined in with the press in order to prevent the home side from playing the ball out from the back.
Employing an active press high up the pitch was a brave move from the away side but one that perhaps played into the hands of the Indian Champions. Bengaluru FC’s main source of goals in the early stages of the I-League season has been from the midfield with new boy Eugeneson Lyngdoh being the club’s top scorer in the league. The willingness of the 2 pressing midfielders, as Ashley Westwood likes to refer to them, to make forward runs and join the attack has been a key element of their attack. John Johnson and Curtis Osano were not afraid to play quick vertical passes especially with Robin Singh playing upfront given his ability to hold up play with his back to goal. Having committed to the high press, Maziya were simply unable to close down space for the home side’s midfielders.
The below graphic shows an example of the space offered to the midfielders. The home side caught Maziya in possession and transitioned quickly committing bodies in attack. The Maziya midfielders were unable to make up the ground and as seen clearly out of position unable to provide protection to their back 4. Unfortunately for the home side, Lyngdoh could not drive home the advantage as his effort went over.
The above wasn’t an isolated incident by any means as the Blues were able to play their way past Maziya’s pressing scheme or simply bypass it altogether through accurate vertical passes. To their credit, Maziya did address the situation and became more aware in defensive transitions as the midfield duo in particular focused on getting back into defensive positions.
Bengaluru FC responded to this though as with the central area now more crowded, the focus of the attack shifted to the wider areas especially the right hand side. Beikhokhei Beingaichho is more of a traditional winger who looks to stay out wide and Rino Anto is certainly not shy of making overlapping runs from his right-back position. Indeed it was Rino’s cross that found Sunil Chhetri at the back post for the opening goal of the game. Of course this was just a precursor to the late drama that unfolded in the game with a late Maziya penalty and a Shankar Sampingiraj injury time winner ensuring that the fans got their money’s worth.
Talent Radar representative Shankar has a night to remember
The lanky 20 year-old delivered an eye-catching performance against Shillong Lajong. However he struggled against one of the I-League’s best wingers Sony Norde against Mohun Bagan. Shankar was continuously out-paced by the Haitian as the latter chalked up 2 goals and an assist in a 4-1 victory. However, Westwood showed faith in the youngster as he kept his spot in the side albeit in a different role as one of the aforementioned pressing midfielders. An injury to Joshua Walker though saw Shankar slot into the deep-lying playmaker role, one in which he acquitted himself well without doing anything particularly eye-catching. His moment arrived 3 minutes into injury time as he rose to put away an in-swinging cross to seal 3 points and send the crowd into rapture. A dramatic goal from a young local player was almost the perfect way to seal the club’s AFC Cup debut.
Written by Arnab Ray