Bengaluru, April 10: Control. New Radiant SC coach Oscar Bruzon emphasised on its importance when his side would play Indian Super League finallists Bengaluru FC in the AFC Cup on Tuesday. To BFC's surprise, it was New Radiant that held the momentum in their Group E match at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium. Yet, they were unable to utilise it as they succumbed to a 0-1 defeat to the 2016 AFC Cup runners.
It could have all gone down for Bengaluru FC had it not been for Sunil Chhetri, their talisman. Introduced in the second half to bring some creativity up front, Chhetri rushed into the box, shielded the ball from his marker and provided a tap-in for Nishu Kumar in the 90th minute. That was enough for Bengaluru FC to seal the three points in a game that they were completely outplayed.
You would think New Radiant were the underdogs. They did come into the clash as that but with simple football, they turned up the show against the clueless Bengaluru FC. Both teams started off with a 5-3-2 formation, which eventually turned 3-5-2 but New Radiant were the ones who rose to the occasion.
Good positioning, better game sense and accurate passes let New Radiant hurl attack after attack at the BFC back-three. The two wing-backs - Mohamed Rasheed and Akram Abdull Gani - had a lot to say during the game.
It wasn't surprising that they held 65 per cent possession in the first 45 minutes. It got to a point when BFC coach Albert Roca was forced to introduce their talisman Chhetri, making his AFC Cup 2018 appearance, in place of Semboi Haokip in the 70th minute. Possession improved and his team was rescued.
BFC had to consider themselves lucky not to concede with vice-captain Akram, originally a defender, playing the perfect winger on the right flank after a quarter of the game. It didn't help that Nishu Kumar gave Akram a free run on the right.
New Radiant let their three foreigners - Amiri, Jorge Gotor Blas and Candela - protect the goal while the rest joined in the attack. Yet, BFC held on.
How? BFC just packed their box with taller and physical players like Erik Paartalu, Harmanjot Khabra and Joyner Lourenco to prevent New Radiant from connecting their headers off the crosses from the flanks. Others returning to the box like Malsawmzuala and Nishu Kumar were the burst of energy that blocked shots coming their way. New Radiant too had their share of poor shots.
Bengaluru FC had a mere two chances in the first half to make something of the contest. Semboi Haokip wasted an opportunity in the seventh minute when he was sent through by Daniel Segovia. Haokip couldn't quite manage a shot with the number of New Radiant bodies around him. Eight minutes later, he returned the favour to Segovia with a glancing header, but before the Spaniard could manage a shot, New Radiant goalkeeper Mohamed Imran had charged out. The rebound fell to Semboi, whose shot into the open goal from outside the box was headed to safety by Afghani defender Haroon Fakruddin Amiri.
Chhetri, however, proved to be the gamechanger. BFC had a penalty shout go down after Candela looked to have brushed aside Chhetri in the box. Chhetri proved to be an irritant for the visitors and often found himself onside, only for the New Radiant defenders to hurry back. Not so at the first minute of injury time.
BFC now lead Group E with nine points in three games while New Radiant remain second with six points.
"I have no words to say," New Radiant coach Bruzon said after the game. "We'll meet them in Male on April 25 and if we score two goals there, we'll back on top of the table. We lost because we didn't capitalise on our chances. Sunil was smart. He was the only player from Bengaluru FC that could break our defence. He did that the third time. But we have a chance to beat them in 15 days."
New Radiant may have lost but they definitely lit up the Kanteerava.
Bengaluru FC 1 (Nishu Kumar 90+1) bt New Radiant SC 0