Friday, October 8, 2021

FCBU and Madan Maharaj share the spoils in six-goal thriller

AIFF Media 

The seventh match of the Hero I-League Qualifiers 2021 was the setting of a pulsating encounter between FC Bengaluru United and debutants Madan Maharaj FC which finished 3-3 at the Bangalore Football Stadium. Madan Maharaj took a 2-0 lead through a brace from striker Shubham Bhowmick, before being pegged back to 2-2 by goals from Sanju Pradhan and Arun Kumar. Both sides shared one goal each in added time of the second half to finish the match with one point each.

Bengaluru United began the encounter by making it clear that they would try to gain the upper hand by monopolising possession of the ball and counter pressing high up the field immediately in case of losing possession. As FCBU played with high intensity in the opening exchanges, it remained to be seen if the home side could sustain playing with such high energy over the course of the full 90 minutes.

On the other hand, debutants Madan Maharaj FC from Madhya Pradesh looked to bide their time and grow into the game gradually. This approach reaped an early reward for MMFC, who broke the deadlock in the 12th minute through striker Shubham Bhowmick. where veteran midfielder Mehtab Hossain played a long, searching ball over the top for Bhowmick, who was initially in an offside position. MMFC got a lucky break when FCBU full back Robin Gurung failed to read the situation and made an attempt to bring the ball down. Gurung could not bring the ball under his spell and his touch ended up playing the opportunistic Bhowmick onside, who made no mistake with the finish as he blasted home the volley with his first touch, giving goalkeeper Kunzang Bhutia no chance to stop the ferocious strike.

Following the goal, the powerhouse Shubham Bhowmick played like a man high on confidence, as his imposing presence caused the FCBU defence all sorts of problems. Bengaluru United were dealt another blow at the half hour mark when their talismanic striker Pedro Manzi limped off the field after injuring his left hamstring as he tried to stretch to receive a pass. Manzi cut an emotional figure as left the field and could no longer play a part in helping his team get back on level terms. The extent of the injury remains to be seen in the coming days.

Without their star striker, Bengaluru United faced an uphill battle to get back into the game. Although the team enjoyed a majority of the possession in the first half, FCBU lacked some genuine pace on the wings or a focal point in attack that could really trouble the well settled defence of Madan Maharaj FC.

After the changeover, things turned from bad to worse for Bengaluru United. Madan Maharaj found some room to breathe after doubling their lead in the 52nd minute. It was Shubham Bhowmick again who added to FCBU’s misery. Amarendu Chakraborty played a long ball over the Bengaluru United backline, which should have been met by goalkeeper Kunzang Bhutia, who had an opportunity to come off his line and clear the danger. Instead, Bhutia chose to stay in his area, which proved to be a costly mistake as Bhowmick easily reached the pass and calmly slotted the ball past Kunzang Bhutia.

FC Bengaluru United were inches away from reducing the deficit immediately when Slovenian forward Luka Majcen found a yard in the box to turn and get a shot away. His powerful effort rattled off the MMFC crossbar, keeping the scoreline at 2-0 in favour of MMFC.

FC Bengaluru United mounted sustained pressure in their search of a way back into the match, and they were finally rewarded in the 68th minute when veteran midfielder Sanju Pradhan displayed his individual brilliance to bring his side back in touching distance. Pradhan first dispossessed his MMFC counterpart and then played a quick one-two with Ronaldo Oliveira before producing a pile driver of a hit that left substitute goalkeeper Abhishek Calvin clutching at thin air.

The home team restored parity at 2-2 in the 80th minute, as Madan Maharaj failed to deal with a low cross into the box from the left. The ball pin-balled after the initial clearance and found its way to Arun Kumar, who placed an efficient grounded finish past Abhishek Calvin.

With ten minutes left to play and the score tied at 2-2, the drama intensified further in the last phase of the game. Nitish Hazra had a golden opportunity to restore Madan Maharaj FC’s advantage in the 84th minute, but he failed to keep his composure in an eyeball to eyeball situation with the goalkeeper.

Madan Maharaj FC looked the more dominant side in the final five minutes, and almost landed the knockout punch after scoring in the 94th minute of the match through substitute forward Jiten Murmu. Abhishek Calvin launched a regular long kick up the field, which was first misjudged by FCBU defender Anup Raj. After he failed to make contact with the ball, Murmu was left with just the goalkeeper to beat, and he did so with aplomb as he placed a lofted volley over Kunzang Bhutia, who was caught off his line in no man’s land.

The game looked like it was over, with just seconds of additional time left to play. Those remaining few seconds were all it took for FCBU to draw level once again. Substitute Jaison Vaz was present inside the box as FCBU looked to commit players and deliver the ball inside the box in a hurry. When the ball came to Jaison, he kept his composure to turn and volley home the final kick of the match with his left foot. As the ball bulged in the back of the net, everyone inside the Bangalore Football Stadium seemed to be caught in frenzy as the game finished with one of the most frantic endings that one can expect.

The result leaves Madan Maharaj FC with a draw from their first match, while FC Bengaluru United remain on two points from two matches after drawing both their games in Group A thus far.


Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Solid Rajasthan hold favourites Bengaluru United to 1-1 draw

I-League Media

The second match in Group A saw a faceoff between Rajasthan United FC (RUFC) and FC Bengaluru United (FCBU) at the Bangalore Football Stadium today.

A back and forth game between both teams saw Bengaluru United enjoy a solid first half, while the team from Rajasthan came back in the second period to draw level by outplaying their opponents for a large part of the game. The match finished 1-1, with FCBU defender Kinshuk Debnath facing ejection after a red card in the 86th minute.

The match began with both teams feeling each other out in the first ten minutes, but Bengaluru United started to grow more into the game progressively as they got hold of more of the ball. As Bengaluru United looked to build out from the back, the team looked confident of looking after the ball and using the whole length and breadth of the pitch.

Rajasthan United looked to follow a set game plan which showed signs of a strategy that involved keeping the score at 0-0 in the opening period and not conceding an early goal. As the game progressed RUFC dug in and gave a good account of themselves against difficult opposition. They looked to attack Bengaluru United with long vertical passes to transition from defence into attack at high speed. RUFC had some promising moments where it looked like they could release either winger; Dilliram Sanyasi or Aman Thapa, but they lacked the final quality of pass that would have put the wingers through on goal.

The game moved in ebbs and flows early on, and sprung into life towards the latter end of the first half. FCBU’s fancied Spanish striker Pedro Manzi began to get a look of more of the ball in promising situations in the opponent’s half. However, it was his strike partner Luka Majcen who had the first real chance of the game, as FCBU winger Gopi flighted in a looping cross from the right wing which was met by the late-arriving Slovenian, who produced a first time volley towards the near post. The shot was saved with an agile dive towards the ball by goalkeeper Vishal Joon.

The breakthrough came in the 41st minute of the game from an FCBU set piece opportunity. After winning a free kick in a promising position on the left flank, Sanju Pradhan delivered a precise cross which was directed goalwards by Luka Majcen. After Vishal Joon saved the initial attempt, Pedro Manzi followed up to finish the rebound by putting the ball high into the roof of the net. This came as the former Hero I-League Golden Boot winner’s first goal of HILQ 2021.

RUFC looked to direct its attack on the Bengaluru United goal through their wings, with their wide players looking the most likely to find an opening. At the stroke of half time, RUFC built a well coordinated move up the pitch which saw all their attacking players combine smoothly. They could not find a scoring opportunity, but the play must have given the team an understanding of how to approach the second half.

Ten minutes after the restart, RUFC came agonisingly close to scoring an equalising goal from a set piece of their own this time. As Aman Thapa delivered a fantastically shaped cross towards the 6 yard box, it was begging for a final touch from an RUFC player to put the ball home. Instead, the ball bounced out tantalisingly for another corner kick.

Much like proceedings in the first half, the game went through a lull for a brief period, before springing back into action when Rajasthan United equalised through their striker Sukhjit Singh in the 78th minute. The goal came from a move that was begun by Aman Thapa, as the Rajasthan United number 7 seemed to cause Bengaluru United’s backline all sorts of trouble. He combined well to drive the ball up the field and feed Sukhjit Singh, who came onto his left foot to take a shot that took a wicked deflection off an FCBU player, leaving goalkeeper Kunzang Bhutia completely wrong footed. RUFC got the slice of luck with the deflection, but the side richly deserved their goal for their thorough domination throughout the second half.

The restored parity set up an exciting end to the game for the final few minutes, but things turned from bad to worse for FCBU when veteran centre back Kinshuk Debnath got a red card for hampering an opposition player when he was through on goal. From the resultant free kick within range of goal, Aman Thapa drew a smart save from keeper Kunzang Bhutia, who tipped a fierce shot over the bar.

Down to 10 men, FCBU looked to not only protect their one point, but also made efforts to grab all three through opportunistic attempts of their own.

Pedro Manzi got a half chance from a near post header, which drew a reaction save from Vishal Joon, who steered the danger clear. The match finished with both teams having their respective strong phases in the game, which eventually led to them cancelling each other out.

Rajasthan United remain in a favourable position on top of Group A with four points from two matches, while FC Bengaluru United have ground to make up. 

Kerala United FC take on Corbett FC in search for first points in Hero I-League Qualifiers

I-League Media 

Kerala United FC will take on Corbett FC in search of their first points in Group B of the Hero I-League Qualifiers 2021. The match will be played at the Bangalore Football Stadium on October 7, 2021 at 3:45 PM IST. Both teams will be keen to register their first win of the competition, as KUFC will want to set the record straight following their 1-2 defeat against Kenkre FC in their opening match. Although Corbett FC managed to open their account in the points tally following a draw against ARA FC in their first game, the Uttarakhand side would like to go one better and secure a win this time around.

Kerala United FC head coach Bino George was left ruing the missed opportunities in his team’s opening encounter against Kenkre FC. Although his side turned in a performance which they can take positives from, Kerala United’s lack of sharpness in front of goal is something that George will look to set right in subsequent matches.

Speaking at a virtual press conference before the match tomorrow, George said, “We did not play badly last time around, but we were not clinical in front of goal. We have to rectify that in the next game, and that is what we are working towards. We will have some more players available for our next match, including Arjun (KUFC Captain), so we are prepared to go all out for the win.”

George stated that the team composition for Kerala United is to his liking, and the team will be strengthened by the availability of some players who missed out on their opening game due to injury. He said, “We have a really young team with players around the age of 20 and 22, so we will learn from these experiences and get better. After the match, we have had team meetings and regained our focus on the road ahead. Arjun Jayaraj coming back into the team is also a positive, as we play much better with him on the pitch.”

Team captain Arjun Jayaraj missed the first match due to injury, but is itching to get back on the field and help his team get all three points in their outing against Corbett FC. He said, “We are disappointed as a team from the first game, but that is behind us now and our focus is fully on the task ahead. We want to go out and give our best tomorrow.”

Corbett FC plied their trade in the Uttarakhand state league and the I-League 2nd Division. Head Coach Caetano Pinho admitted that the Hero I-League Qualifiers are a competitive affair, and Corbett FC will need to rise to the occasion in order to give a good account of themselves in the tournament.

Pinho said in a pre-match press conference that Corbett FC has made adjustments to compete at this level. He said, “We have revamped the team so that we can compete at this level. The mood in the dressing room is positive after our first match. We have a couple of minor injuries from the game, but overall, the mood in the dressing room is to focus on the objective, which is to qualify for the I-League.”

Pinho remained upbeat and confident that his wards can unlock their potential and perform at a higher level in the upcoming matches, after a performance that calmed their nerves against ARA FC. He said, “I am confident that our levels will improve in the next matches. It is our debut at this stage, so it was important to get the first match out of the way and get a point from that game. Now that the players know what they can expect from this competition, I think we will take more confidence into our next matches and perform better. Even before I could speak to the team about a post-match analysis, the players themselves identified where they need to improve and had a chat with me. That was a very positive sign for me.”

The Group B encounter between Kerala United FC and Corbett FC will be streamed live on the Hero I-League’s official Facebook page.


Rajasthan United FC look to carry winning momentum in clash against FC Bengaluru United

I League Media 

Rajasthan United will take on FC Bengaluru United in the second match day of Group A in the Hero I-League Qualifiers 2021. A crucial three points will be at stake for either side in the match, scheduled to kick-off at 3:45 PM IST on 6 October, 2021. The match will be streamed live on the Hero I-League’s official Facebook page.

FC Bengaluru United is coming into this competition on the back of a good showing in the Durand Cup, where they reached the semi-final stage. FCBU have qualified for this competition after winning the BDFA Super Division in Karnataka earlier this year.

Club Captain Dharmaraj Ravanan believes that the team is ready to leave a positive impression in this competition. He said in a virtual pre-match press conference, “Our goal at FC Bengaluru United has always been to qualify for the I-League, and we have been preparing with that goal in our mind for the last two months. Tomorrow, we intend to go all out and get three points.”

Head Coach Richard Hood commented on the state of the squad at his disposal for this season. He said, “We are carrying some momentum into this tournament from the Durand Cup. I think the clarity and understanding that we showed in our play at the Durand Cup is what we want to replicate and improve upon in this competition. We are high on confidence and self-belief at the moment, and that’s what we need to carry us into the I-League. That has been our goal all along our journey.”

Speaking about the opposition for the match tomorrow, Richard Hood said, “I think we have a lot of respect for each opponent we come across, and by respect we mean approaching the game in the right way where we can never underestimate the qualities of our opposition and always aim to perform at a high level. We are certainly aware that we are facing a team tomorrow who have won their previous game, and it will be a tough match for sure.”

Rajasthan United will look to carry their winning momentum to this crucial encounter, having bagged all three points against Ryntih SC in their opening game of the campaign. The side from Rajasthan will approach this game with the confidence of having scored three goals in their opening match of the competition. To get through to their objective of reaching the I-League First Division, they will have to negotiate their next encounter with the ‘home side’ of the Hero I-League Qualifiers in FC Bengaluru United (FCBU).

Head Coach Vikrant Sharma believes that the lack of a home crowd due to the health and safety protocols will negate the home advantage that FCBU may otherwise have had. Speaking ahead of the game in a virtual press conference, Vikrant Sharma said, “I don’t think that our opponents will have any home advantage as there won’t be a crowd, but they have other strengths. They have an experienced side, with senior players who have played at ISL and I-League level before. We will work to put our best foot forward and see what happens in the game tomorrow. We are preparing to face them and are ready for the challenge.”

RUFC skipper Akeem Abioye, who turned in a solid performance in his side’s win in the opening encounter, remained in good spirits ahead of his team’s match tomorrow. Akeem encapsulated the mood in the team’s dressing room following the positive result in their last outing.

“We are feeling good and positive because we managed to get the three points in the last game. In the first match, the most important thing is to just win and get the three points, and we did that. We are thankful to the coaching staff and management for motivating us and preparing us for the game in the right manner,” he said.

Speaking about tomorrow’s opposition, Akeem added, “I have seen them (FCBU) play a few times and I know that they are a good team, but personally, I don’t like to think or know about the opponents before a match. I like to focus on my own game and showing what I can do. I trust the coach’s instructions for me and think that the coach helps us a lot to prepare for the game, so I am ready to do anything that is asked of me in the field of play. FCBU are a good team, but so are we, and we want to give our best tomorrow.”

Lining up against RUFC tomorrow will be FC Bengaluru United, who are preparing to play their first match of this year’s Hero I-League Qualifiers campaign. The Bengaluru outfit is only one of two teams who have played in this competition before. FCBU will be looking to go one better from last year and hopefully seal their place in the I-League First Division this season.

The result in this match tomorrow is bound to play a key role in the final outcome in Group A of the Hero I-League Qualifiers.


Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Kenkre FC stage comeback to win 2-1 against Kerala United FC

AIFF Media 

Kenkre FC put up an impressive display of grit and determination to win their opening Group B encounter against Kerala United FC (KUFC) at the Bangalore Football Stadium. After going 1-0 behind early in the second half with a goal from winger Bujair Valiyattu, Kenkre FC came from behind to register a 2-1 victory over KUFC, thanks to goals from substitute Lester Fernandez and striker Ranjeet Singh. The win sends Kenkre FC at the top of Group B, with the remaining matches in the group yet to kick-off.

The match began with both teams going through the motions to grow into the game in the first ten minutes, as KUFC implemented a rigorous high press to try and win the ball back high up the pitch. In the 7th minute, KUFC left back Munmum Lugun had the first sighting of goal as he took on a shot from distance that drew the first save of the game from Kenkre FC goalkeeper Tenzin Samdup.

Kenkre FC had their first crack at goal in the 12th minute, after winning a free-kick in a promising position 20 yards from goal. Aravind Rajan stepped up to take the set piece for Kenkre, but the KUFC wall combined to block the direct free-kick.

By the 15th minute into the game, KUFC midfielders Akhil P and Adersh Mattummal were dominating proceedings for the side from Kerala. In the heart of the KUFC defence, Gabriel Lima remained a towering presence as he continued to diffuse opposition attacks, and initiated passing moves from the back.

As both teams tried to play through the middle and keep the ball, both midfields were working hard to win the ball back for their respective teams time and time again. Overall, the first half remained a fairly scrappy affair, as both teams went back and forth at each other. Kiran Pandhare tried to get on the ball for Kenkre and dictate play for his team from the heart of midfield.

In the 29th minute, the play was called to a halt for one minute by the referee for a cooling break. This has been a new post-pandemic introduction into the domestic game, which teams often use to regroup after the first phase of the match. KUFC immediately upped the ante after the cooling break, restarting play with a renewed attacking vigour. In the 31st minute, KUFC winger Bujair Valiyattu fashioned an excellent opportunity for himself, as he received a pass from Adersh and came onto his favoured left foot to take a shot from just inside the box. After creating a shooting opportunity, Bujair placed his fierce low drive just towards the wrong side of the near post.

The match remained at a stalemate at the halfway point, as the first half drew to a close. The Kerala side had the slightly better chances in the first half, but Kenkre FC remained in the game throughout, even shading the possession stats in their advantage, with 57% of the ball possession in the first half.

Kerala United made the first breakthrough three minutes after half time, as they eventually added final product to their promising patterns of play. As Akhil P fed the ball out to the left flank, Salman K found himself in space to produce a good cross, which was flicked on at the near post by Nimshad Roshan. Bujair Valiyattu timed his run perfectly to come in at the far post and rifle the ball high into Tenzin’s goal to make it 1-0 for Kerala United.

As KUFC took charge in the game and looked likely to add to their advantage, Kenkre FC were helped by the introduction of substitute Lester Fernandez, who brought a measure of experience and composure to Kenkre’s play. Fernandez expertly slotted away a penalty for Kenkre FC in the 65th minute, after Gabriel Lima gave away a foul inside the box with a mistimed lunging tackle.

After coming back on level terms, Kenkre FC made it a double whammy seven minutes later in the 72nd minute to turn the game around after going behind. Aravind Rajan sent in a peach of a low cross from the right flank after a fast flowing move, which Ranjeet Singh finished from close range to give Kenkre FC a 2-1 lead to hold onto for the remainder of the game.

Kenkre FC proved to be a resolute defensive unit for the final 15 minutes of the game, as they held on to the slender one goal lead in the face of continuous pressure from the KUFC ranks towards the end of the game. As KUFC dominated the ball and continued to try and force the issue, they were largely confined to chances from set-plays and attempts from range, as the Kerala side struggled to break down the Kenkre FC defence.

That match finished with a 2-1 win for the side from Maharashtra, leaving it all to do for KUFC for the rest of the group stage matches. Kenkre FC will now look forward to their next encounter against ARA FC on October 9, 2021.