#NewChampion beckons! Bengaluru, Goa face off in Hero ISL 2018-19 grand finale
Two deserving contenders, but only one can be crowned the new champion. The moment of truth in the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2018-19 is finally upon us as Bengaluru FC and FC Goa lock horns in the final at the Mumbai Football Arena on March 17. It will be both teams’ second final appearance, with Goa having reached the stage back in 2015 and Bengaluru in the 2017-18 season.
There’s little to choose between the two sides in terms of their performances this season, but Bengaluru may have the slight edge considering they won both their league encounters against the Gaurs this season.
The Blues will be in the final for the second successive season. After the heartbreak in last season’s grand finale, where they narrowly went down to Chennaiyin FC 3-2, Bengaluru will be desperate to make their second shot at success stick.
The Blues have been one of the most consistent sides this season, edging out Goa on head-to-head to finish the league stage at the top of the table. Despite a slight falter towards the end of their league campaign, Carles Cuadrat’s men have done enough to emerge as arguably the most balanced squad over the course of the season.
The Blues have been resolute at the back, strong in the middle of the park and a force to be reckoned with in the offensive side of things. Up front, the onus will be on captain Sunil Chhetri and Venezuelan striker Miku to deliver the all-important goals. Chhetri has been the side’s top scorer with nine goals to his name. Miku, on the other hand, missed a large chunk of the season due to an injury but is slowly regaining his form. Traditionally a big match player, the Venezuelan may just be the differential on Sunday. Udanta Singh’s pace down the right wing has been a constant outlet for Bengaluru throughout the season and may prove crucial against a Goa defence which prefers to keep a high line. The youngster is enjoying his most productive season so far, scoring five goals and providing three assists.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu will be the Blues’ last line of defence. The goalkeeper has had a terrific season and will have a big role to play against a star-studded Goa forward line.
Here’s a look at Bengaluru’s current season in numbers:
Regarded by many as the most eye-catching team this campaign, Sergio Lobera's Goa side have been a treat to watch this season. Now, in their second final, the Gaurs will be eager to replicate the class on the grandest stage of them all. Incidentally, like Bengaluru, the Gaurs too lost out on the title to Chennaiyin back in 2015. However, the current side is replete with serial winners and will be desperate to do one better this time around.
Since the turn of the year, Goa have undoubtedly been the best side in the league, winning five of their nine matches and scoring 14 goals in the process. While their head-to-head record against Bengaluru this season does not exude confidence, it has to be noted that they have scored seven goals in two matches at the Mumbai Football Arena this season and won them both.
Looking at the statistics, the Gaurs have been leading the charts in terms of goals scored, attempted passes and clean sheets. In defence, Senegalese centre-back Mourtada Fall has been an unbreachable wall. His flourishing partnership with Carlos Pena provides the much-needed defensive stability which the team lacked last season and in the first half of this campaign. Goalkeeper Naveen Kumar made a switch to Goa in the January transfer window and has been a solid last guard to the Gaurs' fortress.
At the core of FC Goa’s attacking prowess is the passing ability of Ahmed Jahouh. Time and again, the Moroccan midfielder has been the lynchpin of the Goa side, breaking open defences with his inch-perfect diagonals and through balls. With Lenny Rodrigues providing ample defensive cover, Jahouh has been granted the freedom to weave his magic from any position on the pitch. The tussle between Jahouh and Bengaluru's Dimas will surely have a telling effect of the tie.
However, it is up front where Goa’s greatest strength lies. Once again, Ferran Corominas is the overwhelming favourite to emerge as the league’s highest goal scorer. The Spaniard already has 16 goals to his name this campaign. But the Golden Boot front runner will be more concerned with guiding his side across the finish line on Sunday. With the likes of Brandon Fernandes, Edu Bedia and Jackichand Singh operating behind him, the Spaniard is bound to get a few chances to score. Goa's wing play has been particularly impressive this season, with as many as 16 goals scored from crosses (more than any other team). But despite being the most successful attacking unit in the Hero ISL by far, the Gaurs have traditionally struggled against Bengaluru in the past. The have scored just five goals in four matches against Bengaluru i.e. their worst goals per game ratio (1.25) against a single opponent in the Hero ISL.
As things stand, it is impossible to pick a clear favourite between the two. But one thing is set on stone - expect a firecracker of a show at the Mumbai Football Arena on Sunday.
Here’s a look at Goa’s current season in numbers:
Bengaluru FC: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (GK), Harmanjot Khabra, Rahul Bheke, Juanan, Nishu Kumar, Alejandro Barrera, Dimas Delgado, Udanta Singh, Xisco Hernandez, Sunil Chhetri (C), Miku
FC Goa: Naveen Kumar (GK), Seriton Fernandes, Mourtada Fall, Carlos Pena, Mandar Rao Dessai (C), Lenny Rodrigues, Ahmed Jahouh, Jackichand Singh, Edu Bedia, Brandon Fernandes, Ferran Corominas
DID YOU KNOW?
- Only once has a team kept a clean sheet in a Hero ISL final (2014 by ATK).
- FC Goa have scored 84 goals since the start of last season (highest in the league) while Bengaluru have scored 73 goals (second highest in the league).
- Six out of 13 goals in the previous Hero ISL finals have been scored via set piece situations.
Which team will win the Hero ISL 2018-19 title?
- Bengaluru FC
- FC Goa
Have your say in the comments section below.
Catch the match live on the Star Sports Network, Hotstar and Jio TV at 7.30 PM.
Click here to view the Hero ISL Final Matchday Programme.