Indian Football

AFC Cup semi-final: Can Bengaluru FC go where no other Indian team has gone before?

This is the final frontier before the actual final.

Standing on the cusp of glory is a tricky thing. The periphery of achievement is a treacherous place, fraught with possibilities as well as regrets.

On the one hand, there is a chance of vaulting over existing barriers and breaking new ground, injecting self-belief into all peers and comrades and firing the imagination to explore previously unknown territory. Conversely, the journey could come to an end and leave the combatant on the precipice of ambition, set adrift short of the desired goal, waiting for another chance.

Come Wednesday evening, the Kanteerava Stadium will be positively buzzing with the anticipation of Bengaluru FC’s fate. The West Block Blues will be out in full voice to try and stop defending champions Johor Darul Ta’zim from scoring. With all but two stands sold out, a crowd of 15,000-plus will fuel the burning desire in not only every BFC fan’s heart, but also in the heart of anybody and everybody aching for change in Indian football.

Why is this match a big deal for Indian football?

Bengaluru are only the third club in the history of Indian football to make it as far as the semi-finals of the AFC Cup, after Dempo in 2008 and East Bengal in 2013. However, they’re the ones who’ve looked the most likely to break this jinx.

For starters, they have achieved what their predecessors failed to do – not lose a leg of the semi-final. You read that right, Dempo lost both legs 4-1 and 1-0 to Lebanon’s Safa Sporting Club in 2008, and East Bengal suffered a similar fate, going down 4-2 and 3-0 to eventual champions Al-Kuwait.

The Indian club’s 1-1 result from the Larkin Stadium gives them a precious away goal and a chance to win the tie outright should they manage a clean sheet at the Kanteerava.

The AFC Cup may be the second-tier competition of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), but as Sunil Chhetri rightly admitted, Indian clubs are far away from the reaching the pinnacle of the AFC Champions League. They must first stamp their authority on the AFC Cup before thinking about the AFC Champions League.

“Yes, it is the biggest game of my club career,” Chhetri had told Scroll.in. “It is simply because we have a chance of going where no Indian club has been before. I’ve never been in a situation like this. We’re putting the country on the Asian map and it’s a very big deal.”

On equal footing

The draw away in Malaysia wasn’t just a first for Indian clubs but also for Bengaluru as a club themselves. The Blues have faced Johor thrice in past encounters, and lost all three encounters to the Malaysian club.

The goal scored by Eugeneson Lyngdoh – his and BFC’s second against the same opposition – helped them draw the match, the Indian club’s first time in fourth attempts, thereby crossing a crucial psychological barrier.

The biggest boost for Bengaluru will come in the form of the suspension of Johor’s strike trio, the twin Argentine threats of Jorge Pereyra Diaz and Juan Martin Lucero and Malaysian international Amri Yahyah, who were both shown their second yellow cards in the first leg at home. Diaz and Lucero are the highest goalscorers in the Malaysian Super League 2016, with 17 and 16 strikes, respectively. Between them they have scored more than 50 goals this calendar year, and Bengaluru did well in restricting Johor to a single goal in the first leg.

Safiq Rahim: BFC’s chief architect?

Of course, in Chhetri’s own words, to assume that Johor were all about their strikers would be “stupidity”. The Malaysian club have scored a massive 32 goals in the competition, of which Diaz and Lucero got 12. But the Argentine strikers are not the club’s highest scorers in the competition.

The danger man from the Blues' point of view has to be the most valuable player of the 2015 AFC Cup and Johor captain, Safiq Rahim, their top scorer in the tournament with seven goals. With his strikers suspended and the team needing a goal, Rahim may push forward from the midfield to play a No. 10.

Safee Sali is the only forward available to Johor coach Mario Gomez, and he will probably start as a sole striker in a 4-4-1-1 formation. It is interesting to note that Rahim has scored two and Sali, one, against Bengaluru in the group stages of this year’s competition.

An unchanged team for BFC?

BFC coach Albert Roca will be playing the fourth match of his tenure. Roca negated the talk of pressure and felt that the game was a great opportunity for Indian football, which he would like his boys to make the most of. “Johor are the champions of this competition. They are still favourites for me but it is a nice opportunity for us and Indian football. It’s going to be a tough mission but we are ready for it. We have shown that we are a competitive team and we have to do the same tomorrow,” he said while addressing the media on Tuesday.

Roca is expected to field an unchanged team from the previous game, with Chhetri and CK Vineeth partners in attack. Lyngdoh and Cameron Watson will be the midfielders driving on, while Spaniard Alvaro Rubio will play as a screen for the defence while kickstarting attacks from the back.

Alwyn George and Rino Anto will play as wing-backs supporting the midfield in a 3-5-2 formation, while Salaam Ranjan Singh, Juanan Gonzalez and Juan Antonio will be the central defenders ahead of keeper Amrinder Singh.

Off the bench, Daniel Lalhlimpuia and the returning Seiminlen Doungel will provide the firepower. But Roca will miss the services of Udanta Singh and Lalchhuanmawia – both of whom are yet to recover from injuries.

Unlike the last time, both teams have had an equal amount of time to prepare, with neither side having played a game after the first leg on September 28.

With interesting sub-plots and history to be made, this cracker of a contest is quite simply Indian football’s biggest match in a long, long time. Be sure to catch the match at Star Sports 1 SD and HD at 7 pm IST.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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From catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalised by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.