South African Premier Soccer League (PSL) team Stellenbosch FC kicked off their title defence of the Reliance Foundation presents Premier League Next Generation Cup in style as they defeated Bengaluru FC 1-0 at the Reliance Corporate Park (RCP) in Navi Mumbai today.

Fresh from their victory in the second season of the Reliance Foundation Development League (RFDL), Bengaluru struggled to build momentum going upfront at times. However, they were sturdy at the back and that in a way compelled Stellenbosch to push ahead quite early. That culminated well for them with the South African team’s No. 10 Antonio Wan Vyk notching the opener with a stunning strike in the 13th minute of the game.

An interesting facet common for both teams was the fact that their respective defences consistently prevented the other team’s forwards from finding a way through them. The backlines were instead insistent on building up offensive moves with an innate sense of composure.

This resulted in them passing and circulating the ball regularly amongst them and but there was an apparent lack of clear cut goal-scoring opportunities in the first-half of the game. Both sides gathered with renewed energy and passion in the second essay of the match.

Stellenbosch, in particular, began shifting a bit wide to create chances from the flanks and this even compelled the Blues to temporarily alter their strategy and game plan. Bengaluru was challenged for pace which could have helped them get behind the Stellenbosch defence. This allowed the side from South Africa to recover possession higher up the field and prevent Bengaluru from making any constructive offensive endeavours in the final 35 minutes.

“I am very impressed with Bengaluru FC. The coach has them playing in possession-based football. They are patient in possession, find nice pockets, so they did give us problems, they moved us around. But, you know, they are on the right track and I am really impressed with the processes overall, it’s really good,” Stellenbosch FC coach Evangelos Vellios said after the game.

On the other hand, Bengaluru FC tactician Kaizad Ambapardiwalla regretted his team’s misses to find the goal, “Their players have good individual skills and they are really good at 1v1. Yes, we could have capitalised our chances in goal, but it was a good game. It’s important to finish off chances because possession does not give you three points. You need to score for that. So, scoring is the most important. One can keep the ball possession for 90 minutes, it is only when we do that and go forward scoring off our chances when we can win three points.”

Stellenbosch FC and Bengaluru FC next face ATK Mohun Bagan FC and West Ham United FC respectively at RCP on May 20, Saturday.

ATK Mohun & West Ham United FC share points in a closely contested clash

ATK Mohun Bagan FC held West Ham United FC  to a 1-1 draw at the Reliance Corporate Park (RCP) in Navi Mumbai today in the opening fixture of the Reliance Foundation presents Premier League Next Generation Cup.

The third-place occupants of the recently-concluded Reliance Foundation Development League (RFDL) were within touching distance of taking away three points from this game. However, a late goal by the Hammers’ substitute Favour Fawunmi ensured that the incumbent FA Youth Cup champions walked away with a point from this game.

The Mariners started off positively as they didn’t peg back and took the game to the opposition right from the beginning. They were organised enough to thwart attacks at the back and regularly made inroads into the West Ham defence by initiating some incisive passing patterns through the middle.

They immediately found a breakthrough in the 10th minute, as the backline recovered possession and moved it up the field quite seamlessly. ATK Mohun Bagan forward Suhail Ahmad Bhat quickly capitalised upon the goal-scoring opportunity by getting past the Hammers’ backline and rounding off a clinical finish by putting the ball into the bottom right corner of the net.

The team from Kolkata was pretty tenacious in their defensive efforts thereafter, as their midfield came together to break attacks at the centre of the park. The trio of Suhail, Kiyan Nassiri Giri and Ningombam Engson Singh interlinked brilliantly as they exploited the open spaces in the West Ham defence.

The Hammers came across a fine opportunity to equalise in the 50th minute but Lewis Orford’s spot-kick was cleverly denied by ATK Mohun Bagan shot-stopper Arshdeep, who dived low on his left to save the shot. However, the substitutions that West Ham rang in did the trick for them and ensured that they avoided starting off the tournament with a defeat.

“The message was that we are facing a team that is the champion of the FA Youth Cup in England, which is a country in the top five of the FIFA rankings currently. They did an amazing final, beating Arsenal in the Emirates by 5-1. We knew who we were facing so the message was to keep fighting until the end, as we always do. There is always a chance, opportunity and momentum to score and we did quite well because we had three-four good chances, off which we scored one,” said ATK Mohun Bagan coach Josep Maria Roma Gibert.

“The message was to have patience. We could have had more (of that). The opportunities that we created, what we planned for, what we expected, I think to be calmer around the box, to keep probing and looking for opportunities that we knew would come. Obviously, there were situations when we missed the penalty. There were opportunities in the penalty box where we should have been converting them,” West Ham United coach Lauris Coggin spoke about his pep talk that helped his boys secure the late equaliser.

West Ham United next face Bengaluru FC on May 20 whereas ATK Mohun Bagan will be locking horns with Stellenbosch FC in their respective next games on the same day.