BENGALURU: South Indian derbies have mostly been limited to cricket – Karnataka-Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy, Royal Challengers Bangalore-Chennai Super Kings in the IPL. People from the two states have been deprived of a rivalry in football. The last Tamil Nadu club to play in the top tier was Indian Bank and despite a rich footballing history, Karnataka faded from prominence after the relegation of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Indian Telephone Industries (ITI) in 2002-03, despite the former returning to the I-League for two seasons in 2011. But much has changed since. Bengaluru FC were born in 2013 and they are now the face of Indian football. After over a decade, the two southern states will renew their rivalry with defending champions Bengaluru FC taking on the newbie Chennai City FC in an I-League Round-2 encounter at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here on Saturday.
Bengaluru started their title defence well, thrashing Shillong Lajong FC 3-0 in the first game. Chennai City could manage a goalless draw against fellow newbies Minerva Punjab FC at home. The Chennai team didn’t play too badly and had an upper hand for most of the game. But they lacked the required firepower upfront and that could prove costly against BFC.
But Chennai City need time for the players to gel and they hardly had a chance prior to the first game. The Brazilian forwards Marcos Tank and Charles joined the club a fortnight ago and are still adapting to the new team. Considering the situation, it’ll be a mammoth task to overcome an opponent like BFC. But Chennai coach Robin Charles Raja is not perturbed about the challenge.
“We’ve started on a positive note, our first game was close and we surely want to do well in the other matches. I’ve seen BFC growing and we’re looking up to them as a role model. We’re learning, and hopefully we’ll catch up with them in coming days. But we’ll surely give our all in the game,” he said.
Bengaluru are also fitting in new recruits. But backed by a strong midfield, the team produced a good show with youngster Udanta Singh scoring a brace against Lajong. Bengaluru’s coach Albert Roca ruled out complacency issues while facing what is arguably a weaker side. “Chennai have a lot of experienced players, who have competed in the I-League and they will look to trouble us. I expect this game to be more difficult than our first one,” he said.
Roca has further strengthened the squad with striker Roby Norales and defender Sandesh Jhingan. But both of them are unlikely to feature in the game against Chennai. “Sandesh and Roby are good players but we have to give them time to adapt. I’m counting on them and they’ll be important for us in the future,” Roca said.