ATK Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC played out a goalless draw in their last group stage fixture of the Reliance Foundation presents Premier League Next Generation Cup at Navi Mumbai today. Both teams came into this game on the back of defeats to Stellenbosch FC and West Ham United in their respective previous games.

They had faced off against each other in the semi-finals of the Reliance Foundation Development League (RFDL) earlier this month. Greater familiarity between the two teams reflected in the cautious approach that both of them adopted in taking the game onto each other.

The two sides created ample goal-scoring opportunities. Bengaluru FC were within touching distance of breaking the deadlock in the first-half, but some resilient defending from the Mariners but the scoreline was not troubled. The strength of both the teams was partially depleted when Lalrinliana Hnamte from ATK Mohun Bagan and Harmanpreet Singh from the Blues were sent off in a quick turn of events as the half-time whistle neared.

Both the teams took onto the field whilst being a player short in the second-half and that perhaps further affected their ability to put the ball into the back of the net. Bengaluru FC ended the tournament without opening their account whereas the Mariners have a point to their name after three games courtesy of their 1-1 draw to West Ham United in their opening match of the season.

“We wanted to win. The game was good but we had planned for winning, not for the draw. The draw keeps us at the bottom of the table. We didn’t want to draw. But the result has come and we can’t help it,” Bengaluru FC coach Kaizad Ambapardiwalla said after the game. 

“We know each other. We played well. It’s not about knowing each other. It’s about working on our own plans and that is important. Both the teams worked on their part. Both the teams got chances to score but we couldn’t score,” he further added.

“We never anticipated a draw. We always imagined in our minds that we are going to succeed and that we will win the match and we were very close to that today,” ATK Mohun Bagan coach Josep Maria Roma Gibert explained.

“We don’t have to be afraid of anybody. The game is about 11 vs 11. There are 22 legs and it’s nothing different. Somebody can be faster, somebody can jump higher, somebody can be better with the ball but at the end it’s 11 vs 11 and today we proved ourselves that we are more comfortable if we press high,” the Spaniard signed off.

Stellenbosch FC take title defense to the final after a thriller against West Ham United FC

West Ham United FC drew 3-3 with Stellenbosch FC in their final group stage fixture of the Reliance Foundation presents Premier League Next Generation Cup at the Reliance Corporate Park (RCP) on Tuesday. The result helps Stellenbosch book a place in the final of the tournament, to be held with the eventual first-place occupants of Group B at RCP on May 26, Friday.

Some incredible end-to-end counter-attacking football unfolded in the match as the two teams engaged in a close tussle during the game. The opening half witnessed a goal each for both the sides. First, Kyle Bailey rounded off a clean finish in the 13th minute to get the defending champions ahead in the contest. However, West Ham responded by earning a free-kick from near the corner flag and sending in a delivery that was neatly put into the back of the net by their forward Liam Jones.

They resumed play post the half-time break with similar energy and intensity. Stellenbosch were lethal and efficient in counter attacks as their frontline broke into a swift offensive move as soon as they recovered possession in the backline. They breached West Ham’s midfield lines with some slick passing amongst their forwards and Roy-Keane Avontuur pounced on the same to restore Stellenbosch’s lead with a left-footed finish in the 41st minute.

The Hammers didn’t hold back though and straightaway adopted a direct route to seal the equaliser. Their midfield released a long ball to Jones, who chimed in between two Stellenbosch defenders to chip the ball over De Jean Ah-Shene’s head to bag his brace for the game.

West Ham looked keen to get a foot ahead in the game after having trailed twice. Gideon Kodua set up a fantastic move for them by slipping in a key pass that was put past the goalkeeper by substitute forward George Earthy. Stellenbosch were quick to restore parity, yet again, as they pounced upon the spaces surrendered by the West Ham backline to play an incisive pass to Roy-Keane Avontuur. The forward dribbled past the keeper and kicked the ball into an empty net to bring curtains down to an absolutely thrilling game of football.

“Congratulations to Stellenbosch FC. Congratulations to South African people. I hope we have made them proud back home. The boys are warriors. They have worked so hard to be here. They have put in the hard yards and they have got big hearts. They come from different backgrounds, difficult circumstances and they see this as an opportunity not only for themselves but also to show the talent that we have in our country,” Stellenbosch FC coach Evangelos Vellios said after the game.

“We will prepare for the next match in the same way that we have prepared for the last few games, i.e. with professionalism. We have to show our quality. We are West Ham and our players have to show that (when we step on the field),” West Ham coach Lauris Coggin mentioned post the draw.

“I don’t think we missed anything. The boys showed quality in the opportunities here. The experience, both culturally and on the pitch, to experience different things is why we are here. We are very grateful for the experience,” Coggin reflected on their group stage matches.