By Akhil Rawat
KOZHIKODE: Tuesday, April 25, 2023, was etched into the history books of Odisha FC at the EMS Corporation Stadium in Kozhikode. With a 2-1 victory over Bengaluru FC, the Bhubaneswar-based side were crowned champions of the Hero Super Cup, their first-ever silverware.
While Brazilian Diego Maurício struck both goals for the winners in the first half, Sunil Chhetri scored from a penalty in the 85th minute to reduce the margin for Bengaluru FC.
Up against seasoned opponents in the shape of Bengaluru, Odisha did all the damage in the first half with two goals from Diego Maurício. Clifford Miranda also made history, becoming the first Indian coach to win the Hero Super Cup.
Bengaluru FC, playing their third final of the season, started off as the more authoritative of the two sides in a rain-lashed kick-off. The Blues kept plenty of possession in the opposition half, while Odisha, who had conceded two early goals in their last two games, were content with sitting back, making a cautious start to their first-ever final.
However, as the rain died down, so did Bengaluru’s command on the ball. Odisha began causing trouble from set-pieces, with Carlos Delgado’s close-range volley from Sahil Panwar’s corner their first real chance. Sandesh Jhingan was on hand to make a last-ditch block for Bengaluru.
The breakthrough came in dramatic fashion for Odisha in the 23rd minute as Gurpreet Singh Sandhu made a hash of what should’ve been a routine collection from a harmless-looking Diego Maurício free-kick. The Brazilian’s shot was aimed straight at the Bengaluru custodian, who had his entire body behind the ball but let it slip out of his hand and trickle past the goalline.
Maurício would go close again just a few minutes later, heading a Jerry Mawihmingthanga cross wide of the far post. But there was no stopping Odisha’s talisman the next time of asking as he made it 2-0 seven minutes before half-time. It all started with a diagonal ball from Victor Rodriguez to pick out Jerry on the right, who headed it across the face of goal. Mauricio, racing past his marker Sandesh Jhingan, tapped it in with Gurpreet wrong-footed.
With Bengaluru looking dishevelled and completely on the backfoot, Clifford Miranda’s men continued to go full throttle and could’ve still added to their lead before the break. First, it was Nandha Kumar, who sent a curling volley from the edge of the box, which Gurpreet was equal to. Then it was Jerry again causing trouble down the flank, entering the box from the right before thundering a strong effort off the crossbar.
Bengaluru, arguably lucky to be only two goals down at half-time, made as many as four changes for the second half. Simon Grayson brought on Sivasakthi Narayanan, Pablo Perez, Prabir Das and Aleksandar Jovanovic in their bid to avoid a second final loss in just over a month. However, Odisha continued to be their dominating self after the restart too as Gurpreet was kept busy in the Blues’ goal.
Just 40 seconds into the second half, he had to dive down low to parry away Mauricio’s long-range effort. Five minutes later, he was at full stretch to push over a cheeky chipped attempt from Victor over the crossbar. Nandha, who had been a menace on the left wing, replicated his danger on the right as well. After being fed with a defence-splitting ball by Victor, Nandha sent a powerful low shot, which Prabir managed to deflect onto the side-netting.
It took 77 minutes for Bengaluru to test Amrinder with their first attempt on target. And it wasn’t particularly threatening as well. Pablo, out of options near the edge of the box, went for a low shot through a forest of legs, which Amrinder pushed away with ease.
With just five minutes to go, a ray of hope emerged for Bengaluru when Sivasakthi was brought down in the box by Nandha. The resulting penalty was lodged into the back of the net by the ever-reliable Sunil Chhetri with a one-step run-up. The section of travelling Bengaluru fans roared with belief as their was still plenty of time left to bounce back in the game.
But it was to be a heartbreaking end for Bengaluru. One of their best chances of the entire game came in the dying moments when Suresh Wangam’s cross from the left was narrowly headed wide by Jhingan. Odisha, who showed nerves for the first time in the tournament in the final few minutes, were more relieved than ever when referee Rahul Kumar Gupta blew his full-time whistle. The job was done. They had claimed their first-ever trophy.
The following dignitaries were present in the post-tournament award ceremony – Dr Beena Philip (Hon. Mayor, Kozhikode Corporation), Mr O Rajagopal (President, Kozhikode District Sports Council), Mr Anilkumar P (Chairperson, AIFF Competitions Committee and General Secretary, KFA), Mr TP Dasan (Former States Sports Council President and Former Mayor of Kozhikode Corporation), Mr IM Vijayan (AIFF Executive Committee member and Chairperson, AIFF Technical Committee), Mr Tom Jose (President, KFA), Mr Mohan Lal (Assistant General Secretary, Chhattisgarh Football Association).
The 2023 Hero Super Cup Awards:
Winners: Odisha FC (Rs 10,00,000)
Runners-up: Bengaluru FC (Rs 5,00,000)
Hero of the Tournament: Diego Maurício (OFC) – Rs 2,50,000
Top Goalscorer of the Tournament: Wilmar Jordán Gil (NEUFC) – 7 goals
Best Goalkeeper of the Tournament: Amrinder Singh (OFC)
Fair Play Award: Aizawl FC