In a jam-packed EMS Corporation Stadium in Kozhikode, arch-rivals Bengaluru FC and Kerala Blasters played out a 1-1 draw in their Hero Super Cup 2023 Group A clash. With the point earned, the Blues made a safe passage to the semi-finals.
Bengaluru FC came out with the intent to take matters into their own hands and got an early lead in the 23rd minute through Roy Krishna, but Kerala Blasters, backed by a goodly crowd of 22,565 spectators, came roaring back through Diamantakos Dimitrios, who netted in the 78th minute.
The game lived up to its expectations as both sides displayed some beautiful pieces of team effort. Bengaluru FC began the proceedings on the strong foot, dominating possession in the first 10 minutes.
Naorem Roshan Singh, who once again showcased his exciting talent on the night, had the first real chance of scoring in the game. The 24-year-old dribbled past three Kerala Blasters players and took a shot on goal, but his effort went straight into the goalkeeper’s hands.
The Blasters, on the other hand, charged on the counter and kept the Bengaluru defence busy. In the 16th minute, Saurav Mandal struck well from the edge of the box, but his on-target effort was comfortably saved by Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
However, it was Javi Hernandez, who stole the show in the middle of the park. The Spaniard ran Bengaluru’s engine from the centre with his sheer quality and composure on the ball.
It was his magical flick in the 23rd minute, followed by a defence-splitting pass that resulted in Simon Grayson’s men taking the lead. Krishna got rid of the goalkeeper and poked the ball in. An incoming Victor Mongil couldn’t clear it off the line as Bengaluru made it 1-0.
The Spanish defender, however, came up with one of the bravest blocks of the tournament in the 33rd minute. He put his head on the line of an incoming volley from Krishna that seemingly looked to end up in the back of the net.
Both sides continued to display some wonderful passages and kept the ball moving from one wing to the other in search of a breakthrough. Much to the delight of the Blues, RoundGlass Punjab FC simultaneously took the lead in their game against Sreenidi Deccan FC in the 41st minute, courtesy Valpuia’s header.
Bengaluru did survive a scare just before half-time when Vibin Mohanan found space in the attacking third and went for glory. However, the midfielder’s rising strike landed straight into Gurpreet’s hands and the scoreline remained 1-0.
After switching sides, Kerala Blasters looked more ferocious in attack. The men in yellow produced waves of attacks and kept the spectators on their feet. In the 50th minute, Diamantakos Dimitrios saw his powerful strike from a free-kick saved by Gurpreet.
The Bengaluru custodian recorded one too many saves in a span of 15 minutes. He denied efforts from Rahul KP and Nishu Kumar, both aerial and grounded. But in the end, it was the Blasters’ relentlessness in attack that paid dividends.
Substitute Nihal Sudeesh found the breakthrough in the 77th minute from the right flank. The youthful attacker’s cross inside the box took a deflection and the resultant loose aerial ball was headed in by Diamantakos to draw the scores level.
In the dying seconds of the game, Bengaluru once again survived a scare from Diamantakos. The Greek forward struck powerfully from close range on target, but the ever-present Gurpreet was in the right position to keep it away from danger.
The Blues held on till the end and fortunately for them, so did RoundGlass Punjab. The result means Bengaluru are the second team after Jamshedpur FC, to progress to the Hero Super Cup 2023 semi-finals.