Chhetri and Bengaluru FC look to start afresh with serious AFC Cup ambitions

After a one-and-a-half-month break, Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) outfit Bengaluru FC return to action as they take on Nepalese side Tribhuvan Army FC in the AFC Cup Preliminary Round 2 clash at the GMC Stadium in Bambolim (Goa) on Wednesday.

The Blues, who won the Hero ISL in 2018-19, were last in action against Jamshedpur FC in late February earlier this year and suffered a 3-2 loss. After finishing seventh on the points table -- their worst performance ever since joining the Hero ISL in the 2017-18 season – they would undoubtedly be looking to move on from their disappointing show and script a new chapter in the prestigious continental competition under new head coach Marco Pezzaiuoli.

Bengaluru FC captain Sunil Chhetri spoke to reporters ahead of the match and let it be known that despite harbouring serious ambitions the Blues were taking one game at a time and not taking the opposition lightly.

“We are taking one game at a time. Generally, when I say this, we are the dominant side and it is meant to make us stay humble. But this time I’m saying it and meaning it. We watched Tribhuvan in their last game, and they play quite well. You could see the unity and the way they trained. They must have stayed together for a long time,” Chhetri, who recently recovered from Covid-19, said.

The striker, who missed India’s two international friendlies late last month after testing positive for the infectious viral disease, continued: “So, we are not thinking about the group stages or who we are going to play next. It’s about one game. And right now, it’s more about what the coach wants from us than about what the other team is doing.

“Ideally, we would have liked more time. We had to stop training [after Hero ISL 2020-21] and again start. Then stop and travel [to Goa] and quarantine and again train. But it’s exciting to have the fresh ideas he [Marco] has brought in. Looking forward to it.”

Chhetri, who was the highest-scoring Indian in the recently concluded Hero ISL season with eight goals, welcomed the arrival of Pezzaiuoli and explained how his signing can improve the club immensely.

“It is a very positive change at the club. The youngsters are enjoying it and it has helped that these guys got those minutes in the Hero ISL. You can slowly see all the nervousness and the jitters go and a stable confident outlook coming about. Suresh [Wangjam] has cemented his place. Parag [Srivas] is a little happier, Leon [Augustine] is wanting to do well, thinking he will get his chance.

“A new manager has no prejudice. There is no previous baggage of what one can do and one cannot. He will see whatever he sees in training and make up his mind. Everyone knows this, including the seniors, foreigners, Indians. Also, the fact that we were horrible last season, to say the least, gives added motivation to every one of us to perform,” he said.

The 36-year-old also said that players were desperate to give a good account of themselves in the continental competition and put a disappointing 2020-21 Hero ISL campaign behind them. “I really expect a reaction. I am the senior one, the captain, and I want it from myself. When you lose a game, sometimes, you start pointing fingers at each other. The good thing last season was that we were so bad… each one of us were so bad, that there are no pointing fingers. Apart from Cleiton [Silva], Suresh and a few young guys, we were properly bad.

“But we all know that there is so much room for improvement. Last season was a turmoil. Mistakes were made, heads started dropping and it made us weaker, game after game. We have talked about these and we want to rectify them. And when you have a coach who has so much clarity and experience it really helps. It is a boost.”


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