Edu Garcia pulls the strings as BFC stay perfect
If Bengaluru FC (BFC) hosting Delhi Dynamos at the Kanteerava on Sunday evening needed any more edge to it than the incentive of going top of the Indian Super League (ISL) league table for the winning team, it came from the unlikely source.
Before kick-off, Rohan Sharma, Delhi's chairman, shared a song from his Twitter handle, prefacing it with the words "I AM SICK OF HEARING ABOUT BFC..." that then led to a spicy exchange with BFC fans.
Even BFC's Spanish coach Albert Roca appeared unusually psyched himself, pumping a clenched fist against the team crest on his blazer as he acknowledged the cheers of the substantial Sunday crowd on his way to the team bench.
The stage was set for two teams that had looked more impressive in their opening game, and almost immediately after, the contest was settled.
The stadium announcer was at his most emphatic when doing the big-screen reverse countdown from 10 to one, and then even as Delhi kicked off, the Bengaluru fans across the stadium responded with a forward countdown, almost sending the message that there would be an early goal. The team pressed hard, and Udanta Singh on the right nearly had a shot in with the crowd yet to count to 24, and then Venezuelan striker Miku had a header come off the post on 84 seconds.
ESPN's Gamecast had Delhi dominate 60% of the possession in the opening quarter of an hour, but all of it was within their own half, as BFC ran hard at every Delhi ball-carrier. Coach Miguel Angel Portugal had set his team in a 4-4-1-1, with Uruguayan Matias Mirabaje looking to support Kalu Uche of Nigeria up front, but Uche was rarely able to get out of his own half, as the hosts often attacked the opposition side of the pitch with eight players joining in.
A measure of how positive BFC were in the early stages was that Delhi goalkeeper Albino Gomes was often rushed into clearances and rushed passes by Lenny Rodrigues, who typically plays in central midfield.
His partner on the night was perhaps the biggest of many differences between the sides -- a Spaniard called Edu Garcia, formerly of Real Zaragoza, but also BFC's first ISL goalscorer in the history of the league.
When BFC made a run to the AFC Cup final last year, another Spanish central midfielder had been instrumental in pulling strings in midfield for Roca, then fresh to the job during the summer of 2016. Alvaro Rubio couldn't extend his stay beyond November, though, and BFC struggled to boss games in midfield, especially away from him after Rubio's departure.
Garcia is of a similar mould, an intelligent ball-player who was at the start of everything good for the home side in the first half. His composure was a perfect complement to the raw pace of the likes of Udanta, Sunil Chhetri and Miku. A free-kick played wide to Harmanjot Khabra allowed Australian Erik Paartalu to open the scoring for BFC, and then Garcia swerved a perfect corner in that Paartalu headed in to give the hosts a 2-0 advantage. Sandwiched between those moments was a superbly-timed run by the Spaniard to meet a Chhetri through-pass, but his shot was palmed away by Gomes.
Roca would say later that after the 2-0 win over Mumbai City FC last Sunday, he had decided Garcia would be better employed in the middle of the field rather than the left, where he had played a week back. Garcia continued controlling the midfield in the second half, as Lenny and eventually Miku joined in the scoring, the final blow coming seconds after Uche had reduced the margin with a penalty. The last two goals of the match, came well after Garcia had been replaced by Toni Dovale after seeing BFC through to a 3-0 lead.
BFC lead the ISL points table after the first two round of games, but their big test comes now, as they don't play another home game for another three weeks. Roca remembered how they had begun the I-League in January with three home wins, but away games proved to be their undoing, and their next game is away to FC Goa.
"Now that we are happy, we cannot forget that last year we won three games playing quite good, and then went eight games without winning. This is part of what we need to be aware. We have just started the season. We played even better than the first (match), but my job is to be prepared for better things. Our commitment should be from now till the end," he said.