"So close yet so far"- Bagan miss out on historic treble at home Mohun Bagan vs Mumbai City FC ISL Final Match Review

 So close yet so far

Picture Courtesy :- ISL & MBSG Media

Life is an unpredictable phenomenon. It flows like a river, has ups and downs. Just like a game of football, life can be happy and wonderful. But on other days, it can be cruel and tough. That's life. That's football. The equilibrium is maintained at all times, joy and sorrow are balanced out, and all that remains are the main characters of this beautiful journey. The journey, no matter how beautiful, is always judged by the beauty of it's final destination. A destination that can become home. But what happens when the destination is not as good as the journey was? 

Bagan fans had this question in their mind when Bagan, poised to win a historic treble in front of our loyal, loud and proud home support, were outplayed by a resurgent Mumbai City FC. The stadium, which played host to that iconic shield win over these same opponents just a few weeks back, sunk in the darkness of sorrow. How can a team which dominated the last home game of the season perform this badly when it mattered? Well, let's find out.

Bagan's coach Antonio Habbas cleared via social media before the match that he is not retiring from coaching in the near future. All the speculation around his future thus went up in smoke. He chose his prefered line up with Vishal in goal, Hector Yuste, Subhasis Bose and Anwar Ali in the defence. Anirudh Thapa, Joni Kauko and Deepak Tangri started in the middle of the park with Manvir and Liston on the wings. Upfront Dimi started along with his Aussie counterpart Jason Cummings.

The memories of 2021 were still fresh in the minds of the Bagan faithful and all they wanted was a revenge. Two of the best teams in India in the recent past were up against each other. 62,007 fans awaited for this mega clash since it was announced. Tickets went out of stock as soon as they were made available. It was the clash of the titans. Antonio Habbas, the old guard against Peter Kratky, the new age tactician guiding this young Mumbai City team. And thus the match begun.

It was no surprise to see Mumbai straight in the ascendancy. Their strategy was simple, take the ball and pass it. None of the players wasted any time on the ball and looked to pass it on. What it meant was the tempo was controlled by Mumbai from the very get go. And it showed. Mohun Bagan failed to get out of their half for majority of the first half. Cummings and Dimi could do nothing as they never recieved the ball. Mumbai's wingers Chhangte and Vikram were a menace on the wings. Chhangte especially showed why he is widely considered the best Indian footballer right now. His quick feet, his pace and decision making made life hell for Liston Colaco down the left. Chhangte came closest to opening the score for Mumbai, hitting the post twice in the first half. Liston had to track back on a number of occasions to help Subhasish Bose on that flank and thus he couldn't play his natural game. 

Picture Courtesy :- ISL & MBSG Media

Mumbai dominated every single aspect of the game. Be it possession, be it passing, be it corners and crosses. It was astounding to see Bagan getting dominated so badly at home. Bagan players looked clumsy and slow, getting caught off guard on a number of occasions. Misplaced passes, defensive lapses gave chance after chance to Mumbai. They also had a shout for a hand ball waved off as well, which looked more and more clear on the replays. Bagan were riding on their luck and it looked like a matter of time before Mumbai scored the opener. The crowd tried their best to wake the Bagan players up, but with every phase of the game Bagan looked more and more cornered. 

And all of a sudden, Bagan hit back. Dimi took his first shot of the game in the 43rd minute. Phurba Lechenpa punched the ball instead of catching it and it fell to Cummings. And as they say, if you give up the ball to Cummings inside the box, you pay for it. And so did Mumbai. Cummings cooly chipped the ball over Phurba and the stadium erupted. Sixty two thousand people celebrated and danced in joy. The stadium was bouncing. Cummings and Dimi went straight to the fans. The police made a row to protect Bagan's marquee man, the photographers couldn't wait to capture the man of the moment. The vibe was electric, the heat and humidity vanished for those magical 30 seconds. Cummings did it. He put Bagan in the front seat. Was this gonna be enough?

Mumbai didn't trouble the scorers in the first half, and it ended 1-0 in favour of Bagan. Half the job was done, the other half was about to begin.

But only a fool would have thought Mumbai would not hit back. The birthplace of Bollywood, the team co-owned by a Bollywood superstar will never back down without giving any dramatic twist and turns. And they didn't waste much time. Just seven minutes into the second half and Noguera produced one of the toughest skills in football. A straight over the top ball to find Jorge Diaz who ran in between the Bagan defenders to latch on to the ball before coolly slotting it past Vishal Kaith. Vishal could have done better, but so could the Bagan defense who were caught napping and were punished adequately for it. Diaz rubbed salt into the wounds of Bagan as he pulled out the sten gun celebration as well as cupping his ears to a stunned VYBK. 

Picture Courtesy :- ISL & MBSG Media

Mumbai didn't stop and pushed the dagger in even further. In one word it was painful to watch Bagan. The midfield kept getting robbed off the ball. The defense never woke up and were caught napping time and again. The wingers, especially Liston were extremely poor and should have been substituted much earlier. Bagan looked like a mess. They looked helpless. Mumbai's passing display had made a mockery out of the dominance that Bagan had been acquainted with for majority of the season. It was not smooth sailing for Mumbai either. They lost Noguera and Diaz through cramps. Even Jayesh had to be subbed off. But Petr Kratky's trust in his Indian boys paid off.

80th minute of the game, it was pin ball inside the Bagan box. The defense was all over the place and the cross from Vojtus found a lone standing Bipin just 2 yards out from the open goal. Bipin had to sort his feet before putting the ball into an empty net, albeit a deflection from Subhasish Bose. And thus lightning struck yet again. Yet again Bagan were punished because of their incompetent defending. And it was that same man Bipin. The stadium by now went totally silent. And no one could blame them. They were let down by shambolic defending. Mumbai led 2-1 with just 10 minutes plus added time left.

Joni Kauko and Cummings did come close to scoring an equaliser but they couldn't. Mumbai never put the brakes, and they attacked until the last minute. The final nail in the coffin was put by Jakub Vojtus who scored in extra time to clinch the ISL cup for Mumbai. The fans had seen enough as they were crest fallen. A final at home demand much more from Bagan. But they failed. They looked out of place and out of pace in all the departments.

And thus the game ended. Bagan's perfect season didn't end in a perfect way. A reality check of sorts, it's time for the management to sit down with the coach and decide what's best for the team. If we are struggling against a Mumbai City FC team at this level, we will be hammered heavily in ACL 2 next season. Asia is a whole new level of football. One may remember how Nasaf had dominated and decimated Bagan few seasons back under Habas. 

Picture Courtesy :- ISL & MBSG Media

Buying extravagant foreign players is not enough. It's the Indians who will have to up their game at the end of the day. Mumbai have shown you can win trophies by trusting you Indian players. Bagan needs to take hard decisions as a summer of massive changes comes by. Who will stay and who will leave? Time will answer it all.

Thanks to all our readers for supporting us through this season. This will be the last review for the 2023-24 season. It's been an absolute pleasure. Next season there will be more matches, more reviews and more content ahead. Stay tuned!! And until next time, 


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