Mohun Bagan are Super, Giants, inevitable champions
Of course, it had to be a goalkeeper. Of course, it had to be the man who won the golden glove this Indian Super League (ISL) season. Vishal Kaith dived to his right, Bruno Ramires hit it at the exact height keepers love it, and Kaith’s giant glove pawed it away.
That was Bengaluru’s third kick, and the score now read 2-2 in the penalty shootout. The same score that the two teams had been tied on all through the last 35 minutes of regulation time plus extra time of this match. Up stepped Kiyan Nassiri to take Bagan’s third; and he calmly sent Gurpreet Singh Sandhu the wrong way. 3-2.
So much so, in fact, that in the end ATK Mohun Bagan didn’t even need to take the fifth kick — Pablo Perez sending his attempt into row Z, the final score reading ATK Mohun Bagan 4 – 3 Bengaluru FC. The man who was supposed to take that fifth kick, captain Pritam Kotal said simply, “I always believed Vishal would save one or two.”
This is ATK owner Sanjiv Goenka’s fourth ISL trophy. As owner of ATK Mohun Bagan, it’s his first… and last: Goenka announcing on live television that the team would be called Mohun Bagan Super Giants next season.
Call them what you will, though. This is what they do. Win.
It’s what they have done all season: and it’s what they did over 130 odd minutes here in the final. Dimi Petratos took three penalties (two in normal time, one in the shootout), placed them all to his bottom left, and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu dived correctly on all three occasions, and could do nothing about any of them. Same corner. Same(ish) height. Same pace. Same result.
His first penalty came in the 14th minute, his second in the 85th. 1-0. 2-2. Sandwiched in between this was a rather peculiar game: at times swinging in favour of Bengaluru, at times Bagan, most times neither.
The game had gotten off to a dramatic, painful start — Sivasakthi Narayan smashed into by a couple of bodies in maroon and green, had to be stretchered off. Which meant an early introduction for a certain Sunil Chhetri. Chhetri’s face was ashen on the sidelines he looked at Sivasakthi’s bleeding nose; and the team looked completely thrown off. Not a good look against a side that are experts at sniffing out any weaknesses.
Ashique Kuruniyan, thrown on from the start (and fit only for 54 minutes) bullied and hassled and stretched out a Bengaluru side thoroughly unprepared for him. The first penalty came off the pressure he put on Roy Krishna (a rather silly handball); and he was at the heart of everything decent that Bagan did in the opening half. But they barely rose above decent.
They didn’t have to, because neither did Bengaluru. In a game of attrition, it was the sneakiness of Krishna that made a difference – he should have won a penalty when Pritam Kotal kicked him instead of the ball after he had crept up on him, and did win one when Subhasish Bose kicked him instead of the ball. He also slinked out of the shadows to head home at the back post to give Bengaluru the lead.
But how do you stop the inevitable?
The thirty minutes of extra time was an exercise in restraint from the Bagan side; several players at several points asking everyone else to calm down. Those thirty minutes exemplified why they had reached where they have reached — Bengaluru had the ball, but in areas of absolutely no danger whatsoever. When they did get the ball, Bagan did naught with it. Playing for penalties, playing to take this game into the clutch-max scene of the penalty shootout, that time of the match where those who handle pressure the best shine. When inevitability does its thing.
Not one of their players looked like missing. Not Petratos (who never misses). Not Kiyan (the inexperience of youth cancelled out by his talent, and this team’s belief in itself). Not Liston (who had had a horrendous season, the kind where they miss crucial penalties toward the end, but his nerves were laced with the certainty that courses through this team)
“It’s our team’s character”, said Bagan coach Juan Ferrando after the game. “Character, that’s the most important thing in football.”
After the match Bengaluru coach Simon Grayson would say that his team hadn’t gotten “the breaks you need in these kind of [big] matches,” and in the end that was what it was about. Bagan got the breaks, Bagan had the “character” to take the breaks, Bagan won the match, Bagan won the cup.
After everything, Ferrando would break down the game tactically, speak about the problems they faced both minor and major, but end his answer while breaking out into a big grin and a “ah, that’s all, we are the champions!”
This is just what they do. Super. Giant. Inevitable… Champions.