“We were wondering what we were going to do after the league stage was over,” Sunil Chhetri said in a post-match interview after Bengaluru FC beat Mumbai City FC on penalties to reach the Indian Super final. League (ISL). And who could blame him for wondering that? After 12 ISL games this season, Bengaluru languished in ninth place, having won just 10 points up until then.
In 2023, Bangalore took the internet’s favorite “new year, new me” trend to a whole new level. They won 10 games in a row, then ‘lost’ a semi-final match at home for the first time, but won a penalty shootout to book their place in a third ISL final.
This is the story of a return to history. A week before it kicked off, Cleiton Silva dealt Bengaluru what looked like a fatal blow with a 90th-minute free kick that gave East Bengal a 2–1 win at Salt Lake Stadium.
North East United 1-2 Bengaluru FC
Against the bottom of the league, Bengaluru huffed and puffed, drawing inspiration from Sivasakthi Narayanan’s opening ISL goal, before promptly conceding an equalizer. Then, in stoppage time, Alan Costa’s header found a cross from Udanta Singh for a winner that Chhetri, Aleksandar Jovanovic and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu recognized as the turning point of their season.
Alan Costa’s header wins it for @bengalurufc in death! 🔵⚽#NEUBFC #heroISL #LetsFootball #BengaluruFC #AlanCosta pic.twitter.com/neG0hlsqcD
– Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) January 6, 2023
Bengaluru FC 3-1 Odisha FC
Two goals in three first-half minutes put Bengaluru on track as they looked to prove that victory in Guwahati was not a false dawn. A 56% pass accuracy showed there was still work to be done.
Jamshedpur FC 0-3 Bengaluru FC
Bengaluru had 10 shots. Jamshedpur had 25. However, they won 3-0. This game was a clear sign that belief was coming back, even though the 2.77 xG they conceded might have pointed to some underlying issues.
The ⭐boy of the Blues with another sensational performance! 🤩#JFCBFC #heroISL #LetsFootball #BengaluruFC #Sivasakthi pic.twitter.com/McTwGJjJw3
– Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) January 18, 2023
Bengaluru FC 3-1 Chennaiyin FC
When the rival gives you goals, you take it with joy. Bengaluru only had seven shots to Chennaiyin’s 14, but Sivasakthi’s first-half brace had done the job long before Chennaiyin started playing.
ATK Mohun Bagan 1-2 Bengaluru FC
From Cleiton’s heartthrob to this trip to Salt Lake, Bengaluru had changed its season out of sheer belief. This match was when they changed their performances forever. They were a much better team, Javi Hernandez and Roy Krishna scored excellent goals, and now you really got the feeling that Bengaluru was onto something special.
Bangalore 1-0 Kerala Blasters FC
Their archrivals arrived, the Kanteerava was more yellow than blue. The Blasters faithful were silenced by a moment of inspiration from Roy Krishna.
🆒 CALM finish from @RoyKrishna21! 😎@bengalurufc take the initiative in #BFCKBFC! 🔵⚽
Watch the game live at @EstrellaSportsIndia, @DisneyPlusHS: and @OfficialJioTV
Live updates: https://t.co/mdnixyEEww#heroISL #LetsFootball #BengaluruFC #KeralaBlasters pic.twitter.com/cmzXI1YSTX
– Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) February 11, 2023
Bengaluru FC 2-1 Mumbai City FC
Sunil Chetri. First outing in 47 days. Just 37 minutes played in six games previously. No problem, still the man. Mumbai City? He is no longer invincible.
Bengaluru FC 3-1 Goa
As if we needed confirmation, Bengaluru made another statement that they were the in-form team in the league heading into the playoffs. There were some iffy referees to put them 2-1 up, but they played well enough to beat a desperate Goa anyway.
Playoffs: Bengaluru FC 1-0 Kerala Blasters FC
Where do we start? This again? Chhetri’s genius, Ivan Vukomanovic’s unusual start, another ISL semi-final for Bengaluru.
Semi-final: Bengaluru beat Mumbai City 9-8 on penalties (2-2 agg)
In the first leg, that little man did what he usually does. Somehow unmarked, somehow the man running into a fixed piece. Sunil Chhetri made a difference, aging like fine wine.
In the second leg, a Kanteerava night for history came down to Gurpreet Singh Sandhu v Phurba Lachenpa. With an impressive penalty save from Greg Stewart in the first half, and then one from Mehtab Singh in the shootout, this was Gurpreet’s night. India’s No. 1 put the stamp on this Bengaluru FC story.
A top-notch 🔝 performance including crucial penalty saves earned @GurpreetGK the hero of the party #BFCMCFC! 💥🔵#heroISL #HeroISLPlayoffs #LetsFootball #BengaluruFC #GurpreetSingh pic.twitter.com/AU1JeZsEA7
– Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) March 12, 2023
One last chapter awaits you in Fatorda on March 18.