Chhetri, Udanta help Bengaluru FC cruise past April 25 in AFC Cup
Bengaluru FC (BFC) took a massive step towards repeating their AFC Cup final run of 2016, with a 3-0 win over April 25 of North Korea in the first leg of their Inter-Zone Semi-final at the Kanteerava Stadium on a rain-soaked Wednesday evening. Sunil Chhetri (33rd minute), Udanta Singh (51st) and Lenny Rodrigues (78th) scored the goals for coach Albert Roca in the club's first competitive outing as an Indian Super League (ISL) team.
BFC will be massive favourites to make the Inter-zone final, with the return fixture set to take place in Pyongyang on September 13. Here are three quick takeaways from the impressive performance at home.
Old is gold for Bengaluru
All three scorers on the night were BFC's old hands, with only Lenny joining through the ISL draft in July. The first goal, a Panenka penalty by Chhetri, was created through a fantastic cross-field ball from left-back Juanan Gonzalez that was played on first time by Harmanjot Khabra on the overlap from the right. Udanta's run into the box required both courage and a bit of awareness, eventually drawing the foul the led to the penalty.
Udanta then sprang into action six minutes into the second half, and extracted an error from the April 25 left-back Pak Jin-myong, before slotting the ball calmly with his left foot. The third goal came in a melee of mistakes in a rain-covered six-yard box in front of goalkeeper Ri Kang-il, with Lenny finally managing to put the ball into the net.
It was a performance of heart and head, and mind over matter. And nobody did it better than the men who have worn the BFC jersey before.
Impressive debut for Gurpreet
While Antonio 'Toni' Dovale and Dimas Delgado were both solid, the most impressive debutant of the night was goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. Aside from his shotstopping, the best aspect of his goalkeeping was his sense of judgement, especially given the weather conditions on the night. As the rain got heavier in the final 30 minutes, Sandhu kept his calm and pulled off some stunning saves, especially once April 25's star striker Kim Yu-song came into the picture.
Amongst others, Australian Erik Paartalu looked out of place in a deep defensive role, often getting surprised by the visiting strikers who pressed hard. Rahul Bheke also looked ill at ease for most part with his role in the back three, but fought on gamely.
In all likelihood, there would be a toss-up between Sandhu and Udanta for being called the most valuable player of Wednesday's game. Sandhu kept a valuable clean sheet on BFC debut, but Udanta's commitment allowed them to execute Roca's tactics to perfection.
"When they get desperate and you have Udanta in your team, it works out well," said Chhetri of his younger teammate.
"They are a very good side. Each individual is very gifted. There were lots of movements in the early stages of the game," revealed Chhetri after the game, saying how the April 25 ploy of starting with a 4-1-4-1 was perfect for a team seeking to sneak in an away goal. "Once we scored, they changed their plans and started playing two strikers. That made it easier, otherwise we would have been desperate to get goals."
But despite the massive advantage going into the second leg, Roca isn't taking anything for granted.
"It will be very tough in (PR) Korea, but I consider this to be a game of 45 minutes. From here, it's another part of the game. This team has the opportunity to trouble us."