Bengaluru FC emerged victorious in a tightly contested match against the ISL Shield winners, Mumbai City FC at the Mumbai Football Arena. Sunil Chhetri proved to be the difference maker for Grayson’s side once again, as he scored the decisive goal that gives them a one-goal advantage heading into the Kanteerava Stadium.
The much-anticipated semifinal clash between Mumbai City FC and Bengaluru FC kicked off with both teams eager to go into the second leg at the Kanteerava with some advantage. Simon Grayson adopted a three-man defence in the hopes of containing Mumbai’s formidable three-pronged attack.
The hosts started on the front foot and nearly took the lead in the opening minutes when Greg Stewart broke free on the left flank, leaving the Bengaluru defence in disarray. However, Bipin Singh’s subsequent effort was thwarted by Prabir Das’ timely tackle. After a spell of relentless Mumbai attacks, the Blues began to find their feet, with their first real chance coming ten minutes in. Mumbai were quick to respond, as Jorge Diaz and Apuia combined well in the box, only for Prabir to once again come to Bengaluru’s rescue with a crucial interception.
Mumbai continued to dominate proceedings and came close to scoring again through an Ahmed Jahouh set-piece, but Pereyra Diaz’s header went wide of the mark. Bengaluru’s star strikers, Roy Krishna and Sivasakthi, struggled to make an impact, with the former managing only one touch in the first 20 minutes. Bengaluru’s attacks were initially limited to counter-attacks mostly through Krishna, but Mumbai’s defence marked him heavily, not making things easy for the Fijian. Pereyra Diaz had the best chance of the first half when Greg Stewart set him up, but Gurpreet Singh’s timely decision to come out prevented a certain goal.
Despite Bengaluru’s defensive resilience, the first half was mostly about Mumbai showcasing their attacking prowess. Bengaluru looked toothless in attack, with their only shot on target in the first half coming in the dying minutes through Roshan. As the teams headed into the break, Mumbai where the happier of the two sides, but with nothing to show for their dominance.
In the second half, Bengaluru got a chance break the deadlock in the first few minutes when Jovanovic’s clearance found Rohit Kumar, who combined with Javi to put in a pass for Roshan, but the latter’s cross landed away from the Bengaluru attackers. Mumbai had their chance as well when a pass from Jahouh almost found Diaz, but Jhingan was present to clear it to safety.
Sivasakthi came off in the 57th minute for Sunil Chhetri as Grayson hoped that he would create some magic just like he did in the last game. Bengaluru’s new attacking trio soon came into action as Krishna and Sunil combined with the latter putting in a first-time ball to Javi, who had a heavy touch but managed a powerful shot at Lachenpa. Bengaluru looked far more comfortable attacking in the second half.
Roshan Naorem was a standout performer on the left flank, weaving his way past defenders and creating a glorious opportunity for Chhetri to score. However, the veteran striker was unable to convert the chance into a goal. Meanwhile, substitute Noguera had a golden opportunity to break the deadlock, but he failed to connect with the ball properly, sending his volley off target. Mumbai struggled with their shooting accuracy all game, leaving Bengaluru goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu with little to do as he watched most of their attempts sail harmlessly wide of the target.
Later, Prabir Das’ intended cross turned into a stunning shot on goal, forcing Phurba Lachenpa to make an impressive save. However, Das’ effort resulted in a corner kick, which proved to be pivotal for Bengaluru. The inevitable Sunil Chhetri was in the right place at the right time to head the ball into the net, breaking the deadlock for the second consecutive game and scoring his second goal against Mumbai in as many games.
Following the goal from Bengaluru, Mumbai attempted to level the score by adding an extra attacker, with Ayush Chhikara replacing Apuia. However, Bengaluru’s defense held strong, making it difficult for Mumbai to break through. The Blues put in a solid performance, with the defenders standing tall to keep their opponents at bay. Mumbai’s Stewart came very close to equalizing the score, almost putting in a free kick into the goal.
As Mumbai threw caution to the wind in search of an equalizer during stoppage time, Bengaluru had a chance to extend their lead as Chhetri and Krishna linked up, but Lachenpa denied Chhetri’s attempt. A few minutes later, Bengaluru had an even better opportunity when Pablo Perez, Krishna, and Chhetri found themselves in a 3v2 situation against the Mumbai defense. Chhetri attempted to slot the ball into the near post, but Lachenpa once again made a stunning save to keep his team within striking distance.
After Sunil Chhetri came on as a substitute in the 57th minute, Bengaluru’s fortunes shifted in their favor, shedding off their first half struggles and becoming more threatening in their offensive play. Mumbai now face a daunting task at the Kanteerava, needing to overturn a 1-0 deficit if they hope to reach the ISL finals and have a shot at adding to their silverware. In contrast, Bengaluru extended their winning streak to 10 games, looking exceptional in both their attacking and defensive performances in the second half.
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