On the fourth of December, three games into their season, broken after a loss to ATK Mohun Bagan (one nil, Roy Krishna, 91st minute), Odisha FC’s president Rahul Mehra wrote a piece on the club’s Medium page evocatively titled ‘Does losing ever get easy?’ After the third game of the season. Odisha have lost three more since then.
As incredulous as it may seem, they have the same number of points as the ‘aimless lot’ of SC East Bengal. They have scored one goal more, and conceded one goal fewer than them, and so are spared the ignominy of propping up the table. It must irk Mehra to be in this company and still not get any sympathy, empathy or abuse. This is what it perhaps means to not just lose, but lose in an empty stadium, knowing that even if fans were allowed they’d probably decline.
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And yet, as the final minutes of their encounter against Bengaluru FC ticked away, and another loss (2-1 this time) was confirmed, it was hard not to feel for them. They haven’t visually, at least been half as bad as East Bengal. They lost in injury time to ATKMB. By a single goal to Hyderabad, Goa and Bengaluru too. The only game where they did look outclassed was the one against Mumbai City — who were at the time shifting smoothly into Lobera mode.
In this encounter, despite not creating the clear cut chances of Bengaluru, they controlled the game for large periods of time — most notably, the opening 15 minutes of the second half. They scored a superb goal via Steven Taylor from a brilliantly drilled set piece routine to tie the game up. Things looked up. For eight minutes that is. And then came the punch to the gut.
Does losing ever get easy? Definitely not. Winning doesn’t get easy either.
Bengaluru can testify to that. They were supposed to be in yawn mode. Boring. Lacklustre. They are also third in the table, a point off the teams everyone is gushing about. How did they do it? By making winning a habit. And if not, then making it a habit to grind and grind a bit more to make sure you don’t lose.
It says a lot about the future of Indian football that the desi striker still mostly likely to top the scoring charts is 36 years old. He is miles above the competition. And that is before we even talk about his aerial abilities in the box. He is five foot six. But whatever protein Chhetri is eating, shoes he is wearing or barber he is visiting need to be advertised on huge billboards.
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Harmanjot Khabra’s inswinging delivery from the right flank was perfect. It was the kind every striker on the planet would love to get on the end of, but only those of the caliber of real class can outmuscle their defender, outjump them, manoeuvre their neck, shoulders and head into a position of perfect calibration to guide it into the only space where it is a sure shot goal. The far corner. Bengaluru led in the 38th minute. The goal had been coming, but it was hard to expect it would be this clean. Even Carlos Cuadrat — who probably sees a lot more great stuff in training than any of us — had to lift his jaw off the floor.
From there, Bengaluru for some reason decided to sit back, content to let Odisha hog the possession and choose instead to defend their lead. It almost paid off too. Despite Odisha’s early dominance in the second half, Erik Paartalu had a glorious chance to double his side’s lead in the 68th minute. Arshdeep Singh tipped it over to preserve his side’s slim chances.
Taylor’s equaliser came three minutes later. And right on the button, soon after that, Bengaluru tightened the screw, Udanta’s cross into the box finding Deshorn Brown who controlled the ball and laid it into the path of Cleiton Silva to blast in. Odisha kept coming after but the Chhetri Company did enough to hold them at arm’s length.
Perhaps the big bruises Bengaluru will carry from this game are those to Ashique Kuruniyan. The youngster took a boot to the face early in the second half and was pulled off soon after and taken to the hospital. A brief statement by the club confirmed that he suffered multiple fractures to the face and is under observation. More details are yet to arrive.
For Odisha, this latest black eye will require extensive observation too. Theirs isn’t a team low on quality or even one down on luck. What they are, are a team in the middle, who don’t really know how to win.
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