What's all the buzz about Bengaluru FC?
Are you wondering why a lot of your football-crazy friends are talking about 'Bengaluru', 'Doha' and 'Saturday'? Have you been hearing about how November 5 could be a historic day for Indian football?
Here's all you need to know if you want to plug in and join in the cheering this weekend.
What's happening on November 5?
BFC play the AFC Cup final against Air Force Club (Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya) of Iraq in Doha, Qatar. The kick-off is at 9-30 pm IST.
Why is this match important?
The AFC Cup is the second-most significant club competition in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), after the AFC Champions League. It's similar to the Europa League. India have never had a team reach this far in the AFC Cup, with semi-final finishes by Dempo and East Bengal being the previous best in Asian-level club tournaments. The last time an Indian team played an Asia-wide football final was at the 1962 Asian Games in Jakarta, when India beat South Korea 2-1.
Also read: The rise and rise of Bengaluru FC
So who exactly are Bengaluru FC?
Bengaluru FC are an Indian football club who play in the I-League, the official football league of India. They were formed in 2013, and in the three years since have won two I-League titles and a Federation Cup. Their coach for most of these three years was Ashley Westwood, a former Manchester United youth player; they are now coached by Spaniard Albert Roca, who was once assistant coach at Barcelona.
Who are their star players?
BFC owe their presence in the final in large part to captain Sunil Chhetri, who scored two goals in the semi-final home leg against 2015 AFC Cup champions Johor Darul Ta'zim. Two of the three goals in that match came from deliveries sent in by Chhetri's India team mate Eugeneson Lyngdoh.
Why is the match being played in Doha?
This AFC Cup final is against Air Force Club of Iraq, who are actually the designated home team for this match, having beaten Al-Ahed from Lebanon in the semi-finals, but stadiums in Iraq are deemed unsafe for play, and hence the final will be played at the 13,000-capacity Suheim bin Hamad Stadium in Doha.
This final is no less historic for Iraq, as they have never won the AFC Cup either. Their two best finishes came when Erbil finished runners-up in both 2012 and 2014. The 2012 final, incidentally, was the last AFC Cup final to be played in Iraq.
What makes BFC unique?
BFC have introduced a professional approach to running a football club that was previously unknown in Indian football. Westwood in particular closely monitored the players' diets and even their hydration levels on a daily basis in season. Former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia told ESPN, "They have given the coaching staff a free hand with regard to decisions on technical aspects and kept the core team unchanged with a long-term focus."
Also read: Five best international wins by Indian clubs
What's their X factor?
The fans. BFC's supporters, who call themselves the 'West Block Blues', have built a reputation on their raucous presence at Bengaluru games, with their EPL-style singing and chanting. They have fans all over India and a few of them are expected to make their presence felt in Qatar as well.