Bengaluru FC sealed their place in the final of the Hero Indian Super League for the second successive year with a 3-0 win against NorthEast United FC in the second leg of the play-off, in Bengaluru, on Monday.
The Blues, who were dominant throughout the game at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, were made to work hard by a resilient NorthEast United who were finally outdone by a 72nd-minute goal from Miku.
Late strikes from Dimas Delgado (87') and Sunil Chhetri (90+2') followed as Bengaluru overturned the 2-1 defeat in the first leg.
The aggregate score read 4-2 in favour of the Blues who will now look to land their first ever ISL title on Sunday.
After a dominant first few minutes by Bengaluru, it were NorthEast who threatened first against the run of play. Federico Gallego nicked the ball off Dimas's feet and charged at the Bengaluru defence. The Uruguayan fed Juan Mascia into the box who, with just Gurpreet Singh to beat, shot straight at the goalkeeper from a narrow angle.
With NorthEast posing a threat from counter-attacks, Miku missed two glorious chances to score in the space of two minutes. In the 23rd minute, Nishu Kumar delivered a delightful cross into the centre of the box from the left flank but Miku headed it over the bar.
Two minutes later, Udanta Singh was released down the right flank and the winger's cut-back from the byline was sent wide from close-range by the Venezuelan striker.
Miku nearly made amends for his misses with a terrific solo run after the half an hour mark. The striker shimmied past multiple NorthEast players on his way into the box, but sent a weak effort straight into the gloves of Pawan Kumar.
The visitors rang the alarm bell again before the break as Mascia's thunderous strike from outside the box swerved towards goal but Gurpreet kept his eyes on the ball to make a good save.
Bengaluru got off the blocks quickly after the restart and put pressure on NorthEast United defence but brilliant saves from Pawan Kumar kept NorthEast in the game.
As Bengaluru chased a goal, NorthEast were pushed further back into their own half as the second half wore on. A cross from the right flank by Xisco Hernandez was flicked into the path of Juanan by Harmanjot Khabra but the defender blasted the ball over the bar from close-range.
Bengaluru finally found the net in the 72nd minute when Khabra found Xisco on the right flank. The Spaniard passed to Udanta who whipped a brilliant cross into the box for Miku who guided the ball into the net with a faint left-footed finish and broke NorthEast United hearts.
NorthEast desperately sought an equaliser and were caught out on the break by Udanta in the 87th minute. He charged into space from his own half and attempted a chip that ricocheted off the post into the path of an onrushing Dimas who slotted home.
A desperate NorthEast were punished again in added time. Chhetri played a one-two with Udanta and dribbled into the box. With just Pawan Kumar to beat, the Indian international skipped past the goalkeeper and caressed the ball into the net to spark jubilant scenes in Bengaluru.
Santosh Trophy moved out of Delhi due to AIFF-DSA dispute
The Santosh Trophy National Championship has been relocated to Punjab from Delhi owing to a dispute between the All India Football Federation and Delhi Soccer Association over the tournament's venue.
While the AIFF wanted to host the matches at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, the DSA was keen on organising the tournament at the Ambedkar Stadium.
Even as the DSA assured the AIFF that the facilities at the Ambedkar Stadium would be upgraded, the apex body wanted it in writing from the concerned authority, Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD).
"They wanted to do the tournament at JLN but hosting it there, instead of Ambedkar, defeats the whole purpose. People hardly go to the Nehru stadium and it is expensive, too.
"Moreover, I had personally given them assurances that everything will be sorted and they (MCD) were on board also but they are not obliged to give us in writing at such short notice. The AIFF was still not convinced," said DSA president Shaji Prabhakaran.
The Ambedkar has hosted top tournaments such as the Nehru Cup and final of the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup and is currently holding second division I-League matches.
"We have hosted so many big tournaments. The last time we hosted the Santosh Trophy, in 2004, it was a big hit and was one of the best organised events," DSA spokesperson N K Bhatia said.
"We kept waiting for AIFF's venue observer and when he eventually came, he seemed to be in a hurry and left without proper inspection of the stadium. If they had made up their mind to give the tournament to Punjab, then why make us go through all this," Bhatia added.
Minerva Punjab will be provided full-proof security including armoured vehicles in Srinagar
Real Kashmir boss Sandeep Chattoo allayed Minerva Punjab's security concerns, saying the visitors will be provided armoured vehicles for travelling purpose during their I-League rematch.
While a date for the rematch is yet to be finalised, Minerva Punjab owner Ranjit Bajaj said it would be prudent to organise the re-match as soon as possible to avoid confusion, given that the Super Cup Qualifiers are starting from March 15.
"When get the clearance from the authorities there should not be any problem. The team will be taken care of well and provided armoured vehicles to travel from the hotel to stadium and back. That's how it has always been here. We are absolutely ready to host them," Chattoo said.
He added, "If we get the go ahead in a day or two, we presume the match could be held around March 20."
The February 18 game did not take place after Punjab refused to travel to Srinagar, insisting that their foreign players had been advised against it by their respective embassies in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack.
The game's host, Real Kashmir FC co-owner Chattoo said he was "very optimistic" about getting a security clearance from the concerned authorities in a day or two.
"Ideally, the match should have taken place by now. It should be held as soon as possible as the Super Cup is also starting soon. We are always ready to play in Srinagar provided we are given security assurances," Bajaj said.
Real Kashmir had turned up for the game last month, saying that all the security arrangements were in place and they be awarded the three points after Minerva's no-show.
Minerva Punjab went on to argue that their pullout could not be considered a forfeiture since it was on security grounds. The club refused to forego the three points, taking the matter to the Delhi High Court.
The court asked former champions Minerva Punjab to go back to the All India Football Federation's (AIFF) I-League Committee for a resolution.
Speculation was rife that the re-match could be held in New Delhi.