The curious case of Hero ISL finals and Indian goal scorers
The pinnacle of any footballer’s career is the opportunity to represent his team in the final of a tournament. Getting your name on the scoresheet in a match of such magnitude is a feeling hard to express in words - something Rahul Bheke will be well aware of. Despite a host of top-class foreigners on show in the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2018-19 final, it was the Mumbai-born right back who turned up to score the goal which would eventually win Bengaluru the title.
Bheke's memorable goal also continued a very intriguing Hero ISL final day tradition. Over the past five seasons, there has been an Indian goal-scorer in each of the finals. Here, we relive each of those magical moments.
Rahul Bheke – Bengaluru FC vs FC Goa, 2018-19
The 2018-19 Hero ISL final between Bengaluru and Goa was tipped to be a goal-fest owing to the quality of attacking talents present in both sides. However, it proved to be a cagey affair with neither side being able to score in the regulation 90 minutes and the first period of Extra Time. After 116 minutes of hard-fought football, a corner kick from Dimas Delgado found defender Bheke, whose perfectly-placed looping header eluded the Goa goalkeeper and found the top corner. Bhekenbauer’s header would end up being the only goal of the match, thus handing the Blues their maiden Hero ISL trophy.
Sunil Chhetri – Bengaluru FC vs Chennaiyin FC, 2017-18
During their inaugural Hero ISL season, Bengaluru were head and shoulders above the rest of the teams in the league campaign. Spearheaded by captain Sunil Chhetri, the Blues stormed their way into the final where they would meet rivals Chennaiyin FC. Always a man for the big occasion, Chhetri stepped up to give his side the lead with a diving header in the 9th minute. However, the mercurial forward would eventually end up on the losing side as Chennaiyin came from behind to clinch the title.
Mohammed Rafi – Kerala Blasters FC vs ATK, 2016
The 2016 final between Kerala Blasters and ATK was one to remember for many reasons. Two of India’s most passionate sets of supporters gathered at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi for what proved to be a tense encounter. Kerala’s Mohammed Rafi opened the scoring in the 37th minute with a brilliant header, sending the home crowd into a frenzy. However, soon enough ATK would get themselves back in the tie courtesy of a header from Henrique Sereno. Neither side could find the killer blow in the latter stages of the match. In the end, the dreaded penalty-shootout was the difference as ATK came out on top to seal their second Hero ISL crown.
Thongkhosiem Haokip – FC Goa vs Chennaiyin FC, 2015
The Gaurs were playing at home in the final of the second edition of the Hero ISL but went a goal down early in the second half. However, that disappointment was diluted within the next five minutes by substitute Thongkhosiem Haokip. The forward had barely had a touch but showed good instincts to ghost in behind the Chennaiyin defence to tap in a Romeo Fernandes cross from close range. The match would, however, end 3-2 in Chennaiyin’s favour as they went on to win the first of their two Hero ISL titles.
Mohammed Rafique – ATK vs Kerala Blasters FC, 2014
The final of the inaugural Hero ISL season, contested between Kerala Blasters FC and ATK, had all the makings of a classic. The match seemed to be heading towards Extra Time as neither of the sides managed to break the other down for 90 minutes. The fourth official added three minutes after the regulation time and that was all ATK substitute Mohammed Rafique needed to make a lasting mark on Hero ISL history. The striker won a corner in the dying seconds of added time before getting his head to Jakub Podany's delivery to beat David James in the Blasters goal. The goal crowned the Kolkata-based club as the 'First Champions' and etched Rafique's name in ATK and Hero ISL folklore forever.