Bengaluru FC look to equalise Chennaiyin’s record as it takes on ATK Mohun Bagan in the 2023 ISL final

2018 champion BFC on 18 March will take on the India's most decorated club ATK Mohun Bagan at Goa's JLN stadium in the final of ISL.

ByAjay Tomar

Published Mar 18, 2023 | 7:58 AM Updated Mar 18, 2023 | 3:02 PM

ISL 2023 final BFC vs ATK Mohun Bagan

Till the end of December last year, who could have predicted Bengaluru FC would even finish in the first half of the league table, let alone march through to the final of the Indian Super League (ISL)?

Sitting on the brink after eight defeats in the first 12 matches, it looked as if the BFC’s season was already over.

But BFC’s road of resurgence started in January 2023 with a win over Northeast United FC.

Popularly known as the Blues, Bengaluru went on to win the next 10 matches in the Group stage, apart from the controversial eliminator against Kerala Blasters FC (KBFC) and the two-legged semifinal against Mumbai City FC.

While BFC — winner of 2018 season — want to secure it’s second title in the ninth edition of the ISL and equalise Chenaiyin FC’s record, ATK Mohun Bagan would like to win its first ISL title when the star-studded final is played on 18 March at the JLN stadium (locally known as Fatorda Stadium) in Margao, Goa.

Only former ISL club Athletico de Kolkata has won four titles — the most by any ISL side.

In six head-to-head ISL matches between the two teams, the Mariners have won four, Bengaluru FC won one last month while one was drawn.

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‘BFC’s biggest strength is their momentum’

Recalling BFC’s bad run in the initial stage of the tournament, senior sports journalist Vishnu Prasad told South First, “This is one of the best comebacks I have ever seen. 2015 was the last time such a comeback happened when Chennaiyin FC was at the bottom of the table but came up to win the title.”

While BFC’s 10-match winning streak was broken by Mumbai City FC in the second leg of the semifinal, with the Blues eventually wing the knockouts through a penalty shootout.

Vishnu Prasad viewed BFC’s core strength as its winning momentum, along with confidence.

“With such momentum, it’s very hard to lose even if you play badly. I remember their game against Goa FC. Goa was capitalising, but when you are on a run like this somehow things go well for you. Even if you are a goal down you will make a comeback,” Prasad explained.

After the semifinal, BFC switched their pressing style too. Rather than pushing up the field in defensive phases to win the ball, the strategy was to welcome the opposition into their half and then turn the press into a counter.

Incidentally, both BFC and ATK Mohun Bagan booked their ISL final berth after winning the semifinals in tie-breakers.

Players to look out for

Prasad believes that BFC’s Spanish attacker Javi Hernandez would be the key player to watch for.

“In the first half of the season, coach Simon Grayson and the management did know how to bring him into the game. He is a player who controls the game. But later on, he started playing a deeper role. Ever since then, he has had much more influence on the game,” Prasad noted.

For the Blues, their prolific striker this season is 21-year-old Sivasakti Narayanan from Tamil Nadu. He has six goals in 20 matches and is the only Indian forward score so many.

“He is the discovery of the season. He is energetic and has speed. He also has that knack to be in the right place at the right time,” Prasad pointed out.

Along with Javi and Sivam, he placed his bets on BFC’s forward Roy Krishna, goalkeeper Gurpreet Sandhu, and talismanic striker Sunil Chettri.

“This season Chettri has shown his experience coming in the later stages of the game,” Prasad said.

He viewed BFC as the clear favourite for the ISL 2022-23 championship title.

“After watching Bagan during the semi-finals I think BFC would win. With their playing style and winning streak it’s hard to stop them,” he asserted.

Meanwhile, Mohun Bagan’s coach Juan Ferrando will likely put his money on its Montenegrin centre back Slavko Damjanovic, Irish midfielder Carl McHugh, Indian national team midfielder Glan Peter Martins, and Australian striker Dimitri Petratos.