Revenge will be on the minds of Bengaluru FC as they take on defending champions Chennaiyin FC in the second match of the fifth Indian Super League (ISL) football tournament here on Sunday. Chennaiyin had clinched the ISL title last year in style after defeating BFC 3-2 in the final and they would look to settle the scores.
Last year, BFC had scripted a fairytale narrative, winning 13 of their 18 matches to qualify for the playoffs with four games to spare. But they faltered in the final. Miku and skipper Sunil Chhetri had done bulk of the goal scoring for BFC, hitting the net on 26 occasions.
This year, Bengaluru FC laid claim to the inaugural Super Cup after drubbing Kingfisher East Bengal in the final. Thereafter, they travelled to Spain for pre-season training and played against Barcelona B and Villarreal B.
After returning, BFC played a couple of friendlies with I-League clubs Chennai City and Gokulam Kerala. BFC head coach Carles Cuadrat, who took charge of the side in the AFC Cup Inter-Zone semifinal last month, has been working hard with the boys.
The 49-year-old from Spain will be working with 12 retained players and five youngsters, who graduated from Bengaluru FC B and said he expects a tough season ahead.
Among the retained Indian players are goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, defenders Rahul Bheke and Harmanjot Khabra along with attackers Boithang Haokip, Thongkhosiem Haokip and Udanta Singh. Midfielder Kean Lewis and defender Sairuat Kima are the new draftees who were signed earlier this season. Defenders Rino Anto and Gursimrat Singh Gill and goalkeeper Soram Poirei also returned to BFC.
Among foreign players, Miku will lead the forward line alongside Chhetri and joining him will be Dimas Delgado, Juanan Gonzalez and Erik Paartalu. The Blues also drafted in Xisco Hernandez and striker Chencho Gyeltshen, besides new signee Albert Serran.
Chennai, on the other hand, survived some anxious moments in the last season to qualify for the semifinal slot. They ploughed their way back under the guidance of English coach John Gregory who had instilled a sense of belief into the squad.
Chennaiyin’s pre-season has not gone their way as they lost all their four games in Malaysia against Felda United, Malaysia U-19s, Terengganu FC and Malaysian Indian Football Association.
Last week, they drew 0-0 against I-League club Indian Arrows. Chennaiyin also faced the setback of losing their center-back Henrique Sereno, who was the best player last season. Midfielder Rene Mihelic and forward Bikramjit Singh’s departure would also prove costly this season.
However, the team have brought in Eli Sabia in place of Sereno, and also drafted in Spanish midfielder Andre Orlandi and Palestinian forward Carlos Salom, who would lend support to Indian striker Jeje Lalpekhua.
Sinivasan Pandiyan also finds his name after a sensational season for I-League club Chennai City FC. Others drafted in the team include North-Eastern players like Isaac Vanmalsawma, defenders Tondonba Singh and Laldinliana Renthlei.
Nikhil Bernard has been signed as the backup goalkeeper. John Gregory’s backroom staff also seen changes with Paul Groves replacing Mark Lillis as the new assistant coach while Kevin Hitchcock assuming charge of goalkeeping coach duties in place of Tony Warner.
Bengaluru FC: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Soram Poirei Anganba, Aditya Patra, Rahul Bheke, Albert Serran, Sairuat Kima, Juanan Gonzalez, Harmanjot Singh Khabra, Rino Anto, Nishu Kumar, Asheer Akhtar, Gursimrat Singh Gill, Erik Paartalu, Kean Francis Lewis, Dimas Delgado, Bidyananda Singh, Boithang Haokip, Francisco ‘Xisco’ Hernandez, Ajay Chhetri, Altamash Sayed, Miku, Sunil Chhetri, Thongkhosiem Haokip, Udanta Singh, Chencho Gyeltshen.
Chennaiyin FC: Karanjit Singh, Sanjiban Ghosh, Nikhil Bernard, Mailson Alves, Eli Sabia, Inigo Calderon, Jerry Lalrinzuala, Tondonba Singh, Laldinliana Renthlei, Zohmingliana Ralte, Hendry Antonay, Raphael Augusto, Gregory Nelson, Andrea Orlandi, Francisco Fernandes, Thoi Singh, Anirudh Thapa, Germanpreet Singh, Sinivasan Pandiyan, Isaac Vanmalsawma, Bedashwor Singh, Zonunmawia, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Mohammed Rafi, Carlos Antonio Salom. (PTI)