Mumbai: On the 19th of October, away from the glamour and glitz of Indian Super League (ISL), the I-League club, Bengaluru FC will take the field for arguably the biggest football game in history for an Indian side.
The I-League champions will take on Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) in the second leg of AFC Cup semifinals. Bengaluru could become the first Indian club to reach AFC Cup final. The Bengaluru club have an away goal advantage going into the game after the first leg in Malaysia ended in a 1-1 draw.
Semifinals of AFC Cup, the equivalent to Europa league in Europe is not a new thing for an Indian football club. Bengaluru FC are the third Indian football side in history to achieve the feat. East Bengal (2013) and Dempo FC in (2008) have also reached the last four of the tournament. However, that should not undermine the achievement of The Blues.
The club which came into existence only in 2013 have already won the I-League twice and have been at the forefront of championing the cause of Indian football.
In an interview for the documentary, 'Bengaluru FC: The Road Less Taken' in Indian Football, Parth Jindal, CEO of the club, claimed that they aim to develop football in India.
Bengaluru’s success in Asia is also critical as it comes at a time when Indian football is standing at the crossroads. I-League is fighting its own battle with the ISL to remain the top division of the domestic football structure.
All India Football Federation (AIFF) founded ISL in 2013 with a motive to make football popular in India. The experiment has proved to be a success in that regard; however, its benefit to Indian football remains debatable. Many feel the short term model of the league and over-reliance on foreign players is doing more harm than good to Indian football.
AIFF has planned a complete overhaul of the club football structure in the coming years, and I-League faces the danger of losing its top flight status. A win for Bengaluru FC, and the opportunity to lift the AFC Cup will help the league strengthen its case.
India skipper and country’s highest goal scorer, Sunil Chhetri, is well aware of the magnitude of the occasion and hopes to do something special.
“To put it simply, this game will decide if Indian club football can write a new chapter in history or not. We’re on the brink of something special and it’s going to take a determined 90 minutes to set foot where no club from the country has before,” Chhetri was quoted as saying in AIFF's official website.
India has a rich history in football. The 1951-1962 period is considered as the golden era in Indian football. The national team won gold medals in the 1951 and 1962 Asian Games, and finished fourth in the 1956 Olympics. However, things went astray since then, barring few exceptions like East Bengal’s Asean Cup victory in 2003.
The upcoming tie is not only an opportunity for Indian football to redeem itself but is also the golden opportunity to put Indian football back on the Asian map....