Bengaluru, Nov 6: Bengaluru, November 6: June 2017. Six days to the month, Bengaluru FC were drawn to play North Korean side 4.25 SC in the AFC Cup. Back then, they referred to themselves as the Federation Cup champions, having won the title in Cuttack in May after beating Mohun Bagan. Adjectives to BFC were not hard to come by. In four years of existence, they are two-time I-League champions, twice Federation Cup winners and the only AFC Cup finalists from the country. However, just six days after that, Bengaluru FC found a new adjective. The Federation Cup champions suddenly came to be known as the Indian Super League debutants in all descriptions then on.
BFC, along with Jamshedpur FC, were welcomed as the two new entrants to the expanded 10-team ISL, which will begin from November 17 in Kochi. "Being part of the ISL will improve our commercial viability that then lets us do a lot more with our youth academy," club CEO Parth Jindal had said then. "We are excited to create new rivalries and keep old ones going should the new format allow us to come up against each other. A key aspect is we still get to chase our quest for the AFC Cup."
The AFC Cup slot is exactly how BFC were coaxed into joining the ISL bandwagon. While the winners of the I-League, officially the premier league of the country, get to play the AFC Champions League play-offs, the ISL winners will feature in the AFC Cup from now on. That dream, however, ended for this season as BFC lost their Inter-Zonal Final 2-3 on aggregate to FC Istiklol of Tajikistan.
How have they done otherwise though?
For their pre-season, The Blues travelled to Spain and played three matches over there. Apart from the AFC Cup matches, BFC have played six friendly matches in India since their return from Europe.
The team lost all their matches in Spain. Back in India, their performance has improved. They were unbeaten in all the six matches and defeated I-League giants East Bengal and recorded a win over Chennai City FC, another I-League club.
Albert Roca has recruited some big names for the upcoming ISL. The biggest coup of them all is Indian national team goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, whom they signed from Norweigian side Stabaek FC.
The team additionally retained big players Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh. Defenders Juan Gonzalez and John Johnson were the foreigners retained by the club.
That apart, they signed 13 players in the ISL draft. Goalkeeper Lalthuammawia Ralte was signed as a back-up for Gurpreet after the team had to let go of Amrinder Singh to Mumbai City FC. Defenders Rahul Bheke and Collin Abranches, who tuned in fine performances in BFC's AFC Cup matches, were signed from the draft. BFC re-signed Harmanjot Khabra and Lenny Rodrigues from the draft. They roped in two Haokips - midfielder Boithang and striker Thongkhosiem - from the draft. Thongkhosiem was the top Indian goalscorer with seven goals for Pune FC during the 2014-15 I-League.
BFC then made key foreign signings in Erik Paartalu, an Austarlian with experience in China, Thailand and Korea, and Dimas Delgado, another midfielder who captained Western Sydney Wanderers in the A-League. Winger Toni Dovale soon joined and featured in the AFC Cup for BFC. Former Getafe forward Braulio Nóbrega Rodríguez and Edu Garcia were the other Spaniards signed for the ISL. BFC have another former Getafe player in Nicolas 'Miku' Ladislao Fedor Flores, a Venezuelan international.
Coach Roca has invested heavily to ensure the squad has depth, knowing that the five-month-long ISL will be tight and tiring. Based on their performances so far, BFC have already gotten into the groove and it will be interesting to see how the debutants fare in the ISL.
Their first match will be against Mumbai City FC on November 19 at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium.
Bengaluru FC in Spain
FC Cartagena 0-3 Loss
UCAM Murcia 2-4 Loss
Baniyas Club 0-3 Loss
Bengaluru FC in India
East Bengal 1-1 Draw
East Bengal 3-1 Win
Gokulam FC 2-0 Win
Gokulam FC 3-1 Win
Chennai City 2-2 Draw
Chennai City 6-1 Win
Bengaluru FC in AFC Cup
vs 4.25 SC (home) 3-0 Win
vs 4.25 SC (away) 0-0 Draw
BFC progressed to the Inter-Zonal Final 3-0 on aggregate
vs FC Istiklol (away) 0-1 Loss
vs FC Istiklol (home) 2-2 Draw
Istiklol progressed to the AFC Cup final 3-2 on aggregate