Pedro Manzi of Chennai City FC celebrates with teammates after scoring against Bengaluru FC in their Hero Super Cup match in Bhubaneswar (Pic: AIFF).
Football is incredible. There are times of darkness and sometimes, that darkness comes in waves. But just when you feel like giving up, football gives you a Chennai City FC. A reminder that this is the game played in both sun and shadow. Beyond the result, beyond the consequences, beyond the repercussions, the points made, and the hassles created, the game,is all that remains. It’s not so much what happened that you remember as what you felt, and by the end of Bengaluru FC-Chennai City FC you had felt it all.
At the final whistle Akbar Nawas leaned back in his seat, just for the briefest of moments, before flashing a wry smile, clapping then subsequently high fiving his support staff for a job well done. Sunil Chhetri, the opposition captain, India’s captain, trudged off in anger, before stopping in the dugout to sit on the ice box, and look back at the field. On the ice box. Made perfect sense, considering there were some heads needing cooling at the end of what had been a cracking game.
The build up to this blockbuster event — the most important match in the fourth most important football competition in this country — had been epic. No one would argue that this was the defining match for this year’s Hero Super Cup — a competition which otherwise only been in the news cycle for matches not played and teams in rebellion. And yet, this was just a quarter final.
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A great game, two champions of two leagues, a definitive moment for all of those rooting one way or another. But just the quarters.
“We don’t fix the draw, it is done by a draw of lots,” said Kushal Das, when pressed about why the two champions from the two leagues hadn’t been placed in the competition in a manner where they met in the final. “We take two pots and we draw lots, and that is how these things turn out. It is like India and Pakistan playing each other in the World Cup quarter finals. Things happen.” To which the only sensible response can be the slow clap. Stand up now.
It is bewildering to think that the organisers, and the league committee in charge of the tournament can be so callous. They go through the effort to ensure that I-league teams play ISL teams in their opening encounter of the tournament. They also go through the process of making up a qualifier system. But seeding, and progressive draw creation would be a step too far wouldn't it.
In any case. The game was played. And what a game it was. It had three goals, 21 shots at goal, one penalty (saved), one glorious nutmeg, 13 corners and a goalkeeper at the top of a top top game. It had great saves, brilliant goals, and bizarre defending. But most of all it had Mauro Boerchio — the clear hero of the game. And did he know it, after the final whistle taunting, Miku into retaliation, one that would’ve sparked a mass brawl if only the humidity of Bhubaneswar hadn’t sapped everyone of their energy.
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The game also had Pedro Manzi. The man who scores in hat tricks, but scored just the one goal yesterday. And what a goal it was. Bengaluru were undone multiple times by Chennai City’s long ball tactic. But calling Manzi’s goal a product of the pass would be doing it a great disservice.
Nestor Gordillo had already snapped Chennai’s opener in the 15th minute, a long ball from Tarif Akhand giving Bengaluru’s big men enough doubt to miss it completely and allow the Spaniard to run clear. He didn’t miss, slotting it low into the bottom corner, to give the I-League champions the lead. The game petered out thereafter. Bengaluru relying on their collective wisdom, and passing mechanism to eventually yield results.
The problem though was they were as predictable as they get. The plan was always the same. Ping it about in the centre, and then spread the play to the wings. Hope Udanta, Miku or even Xisco could feed the number 11 in the middle. Sometimes they did but not enough. For almost the entirety of the game Ajithkumar had Udanta on a leash, no amount of twisting and swerving putting the Chennai man off. On the other flank, Edwin Vanspaul was a rock, and even walked away with the moment of the match (goals are incidents, moments are momentous) nutmegging Dimas to go charging through for a Chennai City counter in the second half.
But that came after. When Chennai were almost sure they had it in the bag. Edwin was also guilty of perhaps arresting Chennai’s momentum, a careless and needless tug on Chhetri giving Bengaluru a penalty in the 51st minute. Chhetri had fallen. Chhetri rose, and he was duly appointed to take the shot and put everything back on track.
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In the documentary version of this story, at the moment that Chhetri starts his run up, everything that has happened for the I-league, all the denigration, the humiliation, the collective rebellion, Ranjit Bajaj’s anger, East Bengal’s back stabbing, Real Kashmir’s silence, all of it will be the cutaways, that will seek to enhance the pressure. Mauro vs Chhetri. Nine times out of 10, and ninety nine in hundred, that penalty goes in. Not yesterday though. Yesterday, Mauro palmed it out, and then locked eyes with the Bengaluru captain and did the universal sign for ‘I see you’ for more effect.
The game at that point of time — despite their being almost half of it left of play — seemed to have gone away from Bengaluru. And minutes later, Manzi scored the screamer. Picking up Sandro’s long pass 25 yards from goal, swerving, cutting to his favourite foot and they putting it into the corner. Even by his standards, that was quite cool.
Bengaluru had their chances after, and Chhetri got one back, heading brilliantly from a corner. He could’ve got a second too, from a Bheke cut back, but Mauro’s big palms were again in the way. Miku came close. So did Dimas. But there was Mauro.
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There were four minutes added. Because four minutes are always added even when you’d prefer if this didn’t end. And then the referee did something terrible and brought down the curtains.
But this isn’t where it ends. The I-league is doing a collective fist bump. Their champions have beaten the ISL champions. The swashbuckling trendy team of this year has beaten the swashbuckling, trendy team of many past years. And this gives the big bosses an extra headache. They may not follow any logic if they do dilute the I-league next year, but a point has been made. Football is football, and games are won over ninety minutes played. Give them the same stage and who knows what may happen. Football finds a way to be incredible.
In the offices this goes to extra time.
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