BHAWANIPORE FC BEAT Bengaluru United 2-0 in the inaugural match of I-League Qualifiers 2020, the first major sporting event on Indian soil since the COVID-19 caused lockdowns.
A huge build-up of anticipation took place over the last few weeks, with fans eagerly awaiting the return of Indian football after a gap of more than 200 days.
Watch the full match right here, courtesy the 1Sports Facebook page.
To ensure the safety of players and staff of all teams, organizers AIFF and IFA housed them in safety bubbles. Everybody went through mandatory COVID tests and those who tested positive were quarantined immediately.
When players of Bengaluru United and Bhawanipore arrived at the Salt Lake Stadium this morning, they were all tested for temperature. The players did their pre match warm up wearing masks and the post match press conference was cancelled for extra precaution.
The match itself was an interesting display of contrasting philosophies from Bengaluru United coach Richard Hood and Bhawanipore gaffer Shankarlal Chakraborty. FCBU started the match well, keeping most of the ball and creating more chances. But the Bhawanipore defence duo of Arijit Bagui and Kinghshuk Debnath did well to keep William Opoku and Azharuddin Mallick away. Keeper Shilton Paul, on loan from Churchill Brothers, also made a couple of crucial saves to keep the Kolkata-based side in the game.
But although Bhawanipore spent most of the game abosorbing pressure and occasionally seeking to move up through long balls, it was they who got the first break through right before half time. A long pass was collected by Philip Adjah whose shot on goal was deflected by FCBU keeper Srijith. But unfortunately for the latter, the ball came straight to Pankaj Moula who tapped into an empty net with ease.
The second half saw FCBU put in some renewed efforts to get level. With the new tournament rules allowing for 5 substitutions, both teams kept switching players to keep up the pace, although as the hour mark went by, the fatigue on both sets of players - who had spent months in isolation away from their teams before joining their camps recently - became apparent.
Halfway through the second half Bhawanipore doubled their lead through Philip Adjah. And at that point it became apparent that they had the match in their pocket. With a stable defence, Shankarlal's boys saw through every attack, sitting on their lead to deny their opponents any chance of getting back in the game.
At the end, despite having 69% of the possession, Bengaluru United began their campaign with a 2-0 loss. With this win, Bhawanipore have taken a crucial lead in the race to qualify for the I-League 2020-21 in a competition with a low margin for error where each team will get just 4 matches, and the club with most points will be crowned champions.
The Bengaluru United contingent will try to mount a comeback on 11th October, at 4:30 pm, against Garwhal FC. Bhawanipore will return to action on 14th of October, against Garwhal FC, at 12:30 pm.