This was just the second final in the ISL’s short history where 90 minutes failed to decide a winner. And just as it seemed like it would follow the path of the season three showdown between ATK and Kerala Blasters which the former won on penalties, Bheke delivered the blow that would crush Goan hearts here at the Mumbai Football Arena on Sunday.
As it happened: Bengaluru FC vs FC Goa
Reduced to 10 men at the end of the first period of extra time after Goa defender Ahmed Jahouh was sent off for a petulant kick at Bengaluru striker Miku, perhaps the void left by the Moroccan’s absence showed with just four minutes remaining for the match to enter penalties.
Bheke was totally unmarked as he ran and rose to meet Dimas Delgado’s corner. Goa goalkeeper Naveen Kumar could only get his fingertips on the Bengaluru defender’s looping header which brushed against the post before falling into the top corner. Joy erupted in the Bengaluru section, total silence among anyone clad in the vibrant orange colours of Goa – and there were a good number of them among a 7372-strong turnout.
At the full-time whistle, you could easily understand the elation written all over Delgado’s face. The Spaniard was forced to leave last season’s final against Chennaiyin at half time due to an injury. He wouldn’t get his hands on the trophy either as Bengaluru fell to a 3-2 loss on a bitter evening for the Blues at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium. He could not have hoped for any sweeter retribution than providing the assist for the goal that would win the Blues the trophy this time.
The tension of the occasion, combined possibly with the weight of past failure at this stage, seemed to tell on both sides through the first-half. These were the league’s two most enterprising sides managed by two coaches who learnt the ropes at none other than Barcelona. But it was more a patient tactical battle that unfolded even though Goa saw more of the ball with Bengaluru, organised enough to keep them in check.
It said a lot that the first clear-cut chance arrived in the 81st minute as Bengaluru captain Sunil Chhetri, kept quiet mostly until then, attempted to control an Udanta Singh cross with his chest. The ball fell to Xisco Hernandez whose back-heel set up Miku with just Naveen to beat. The Venezuelan’s left-footer, struck almost with his toe, only succeeded in crashing against the post.
Miku had another chance to win it for Bengaluru in stoppage time but as he opted to control Nishu Kumar’s cross before pulling the trigger, it allowed Goa’s charismatic defender Mourtada Fall enough time to get back and thwart the striker’s effort with his head.
Jahouh, who had been booked for a cynical challenge on Xisco early in the second half, had no one else to blame but himself when he chose to kick out at Miku after being robbed off possession by the Bengaluru striker in a touchline duel.
It was now a question of whether Sergio Lobera’s side could succeed in re-organising themselves and preventing Bengaluru from making the numerical advantage count. They so nearly did, only for Bheke to literally rise to the occasion.