The Indian football season kicked off today as Bhawanipore FC took on FC Bengaluru United in the first match of the I-League qualifiers at the Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata. With footballing action returning in the country after 211 days, fans who were looking forward to the match weren’t disappointed as Bhawanipore came away 2-0 victors in an intriguing contest under the hot afternoon sun.
The match went ahead keeping in mind all the safety protocols and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that have now become commonplace in other parts of the world with teams allowed to make up to 5 substitutions as well as mandatory cooling breaks in either half. Bengaluru United started well in the first half, with midfielders Akhil Praveen, Ronaldo Oliveira and William Opoku dominating the midfield and drifting between Bhawanipore’s defensive and midfield lines with intelligent off the ball movement. However, they failed to create any clear cut opportunities for forward AzharuddinMallick until the 20th minute mark when the striker had a glancing header at goal which went wide. Ronaldo Oliveira was especially impressive, making darting runs behind the Bhawanipore centre-back duo of MonotoshChakladar and KingshukDebnath.
However, the Bhawanipore defence stood firm, and after the cooling break in the first half, their midfield started having a little more of the ball in the opposition half. Both the teams were guilty of a number of misplaced passes throughout the half but that is quite understandable considering the fact that this was their first competitive outing in seven months. Then, just at the stroke of half-time, Bhawanipore midfielder Gopi Singh received the ball just inside the FCBU half, carried the ball forward before producing a defence-splitting pass for striker Philip Adjah down the right side. The Ghanaian composed himself and took a well-placed shot at goal which goalkeeper Srijith deflected right into the path of Pankaj Moula, resulting in an easy tap-in for the former U-19 I-League top scorer (1-0). The goal came largely against the run of play and was the first decent attacking movement that Sankarlal Chakraborty’s side could muster.
FULL TIME! A clinical performance by Bhawanipore sees them clinch the first win ✅ of the #HeroILeagueQ 🏆, with goals from Pankaj Moula and Philip Adjah 👏👏
— Hero I-League (@ILeagueOfficial) October 8, 2020
The second half followed a similar pattern, with Bengaluru United’s midfielders trying to play intricate passes amongst them to open up space in front of Shilton Paul’s goal. Opoku created a couple of decent chances, one of which involved a nutmeg on the Bhawanipore right-back before putting a well-directed cross into the penalty area, but Ronaldo Oliveira could only manage a weak header which was off target. Arun Kumar missed another good opportunity from close range after more good work from Opoku. A number of substitutions followed, with JitenMurmu and SupriyaPandit coming on for Bhawanipore and Ishan Dey, Kalyani-boy Brandon Green and VigneshGunashekar taking the field for Bengaluru United. Bengaluru coach Richard Hood cut a frustrated figure on the sidelines as his team’s attacking momentum was time and again disrupted by their own poor passing. Kingshuk and Monotosh meanwhile made a number of good interceptions and were not afraid to throw their bodies around in a bid to counter the Bengaluru onslaught. Soon after, a defensive clearance from Bhawanipore’s own half saw the ball fall into the feet of Adjah who took on Bengaluru captain and centre-back Rana Gharami, beating him for pace and strength before taking a well-placed shot past Srijith into the bottom left corner (2-0).
With just about 20 minutes to go, Bengaluru United had a couple of decent chances to get back into the match. A shot from close range was deflected towards goal by Opoku but it unfortunately went over the crossbar before a promising counter-attacking move saw the ball fall to the feet of Ishan Dey down the left channel who dribbled past a defender but could only manage a feeble attempt at goal which Shilton Paul collected comfortably. Bhawanipore had a good chance themselves when JitenMurmu broke down the left with pace before trying to lay it off for a tiring Philip Adjah, only for defender Robert Primus to clear the danger.
The final scoreline stayed the same, with Bengaluru United coach Richard Hood ruing the missed opportunities but still positive about his team’s chances in the next three games. Bhawanipore boss Sankarlal Chakraborty was visibly jubilant with his team’s performance, but he also had a word of caution for his boys in terms of their inability to dictate play from midfield on the day. However, a solid defensive display and their efficiency in front of goal should keep them in good stead ahead of the upcoming matches. FC Bengaluru United faces Garhwal FC on the 11th while Bhawanipore squares off against the same team three days later on the 14th of October as the tournament gathers a head of steam.