Shrewd Sunil Chhetri helps Bengaluru advance to the semi-final at the cost of Kerala Blasters

sr gl
Bengaluru qualified for the semi-finals of the 2022-23 Indian Super League

Bengaluru emerged victorious in the first knockout match of the 2022-23 Indian Super League season, as they handed Kerala Blasters a 1-0 defeat. Sunil Chhetri scored an extra-time winner for the Blues.

Though his team won the last match against Goa by a 3-1 margin, Bengaluru head coach Simon Grayson made a couple of changes to the starting XI for this mega encounter. Sandesh Jhingan and Javi Hernandez returned to the team, with Parag Shrivas and Chhetri dropping to the bench.

On the other hand, Kerala Blasters head coach Ivan Vukomanovic made as many as five changes to the team that suffered a 0-1 defeat against Hyderabad in the last league stage encounter. Nishu Kumar, Jessel Carneiro, Rahul KP, Jeakson Singh, and Danish Farooq were all handed starts, with Ruivah Hormipam, Bryce Miranda, Ayush Adhikari, Ivan Kalyuzhnyi, and Sahal Abdul Samad getting the axe.

The hosts had the better start to the game and had two chances inside the first six minutes. The first chance saw Hernandez’s free-kick finding Aleksandar Jovanovic unmarked, but the central defender’s header was not on target. The Spaniard then decided to go for glory himself from another free-kick, but the Tuskers’ human wall did its job.

Grayson’s team had yet another good chance in the 14th minute when long-time teammates, Prabir Das and Roy Krishna linked up in sublime fashion. The full-back’s precise cross was met with by the Fijian goal-machine’s head, but the attempt struck the side netting.

The pressure kept on piling in front of the Tuskers’ goal, with their goalkeeper Prabhsukhan Gill having to earn his money in the 24th minute. Sivasakthi Narayanan found Krishna with a pass, and while the striker’s attempt was on target this time around, the young custodian made a good save.

It took 31 minutes for Vukomanovic’s team to have their first opportunity, but nothing came of it. Adrian Luna’s cross found a former Blue, Farooq lurking at the box, who did well to lay it for Victor Mongil. However, the defender was spotted standing in an offside position.

The last chance of the half once again fell to the home side, as Jovanovic found Krishna with a pass just before half-time. The latter played a cross for Rohit Kumar, who could not time his run perfectly to meet the delivery.

Javi Hernandez had a great game for the Blues

Like the first half, Bengaluru had two back-to-back chances inside the first six minutes of the second half as well. The first chance saw Hernandez placing his header wide off a Roshan Naorem delivery, whereas the second chance saw Gill clearing another delivery by the same player.

The goalkeeper came to his team’s rescue once again just before the hour mark. Sivasakthi tried to dribble his way past the Kerala Blasters’ defenders, and while he was stopped in his tracks, the ball fell to Suresh Sing Wangjam who had a good attempt on target but could not beat an alert Gill in goal.

The next passage of the game was all about maintaining possession without any clear-cut openings until the Tuskers had a great chance in the 86th minute. Rahul made a darting run down the right flank before finding Luna with a cross, but the Uruguayan could not do a Robin Van Persie as his diving header went off target.

Then in the 90th minute, Nishu Kumar received a pass from Jeakson Singh before finding Luna with a ball, but it simply was not the former RCD Espanyol player’s day as his strike was not on target once again.

The match hence went into extra time, and just like the two halves of regulation time, it was Bengaluru who had the better start. Hernandez was in the thick of things again as his corner found Bruno Ramires inside the box, but the Brazilian’s header missed the target by a whisker.

But it did not matter much as the deadlock was eventually broken in the 97th minute of the match. Grayson’s men were awarded a penalty and Chhetri showed the value of experience, as seeing Gill off his line, the striker shrewdly lobbed the ball over the Tuskers’ custodian.

The next passage saw Vukomanovic taking his team off the pitch, in a protest against the quickly-taken penalty. This eventually resulted in a Bengaluru victory.

With this win, Bengaluru has qualified for the semi-finals. They will now take on the League Winners’ Shield-winning Mumbai City, with the matches taking place on Tuesday and Sunday respectively.