Ahead of his ISL debut in the Bengaluru FC – ATK match last Saturday, Parag Shrivas was a nervous man. To soothe his nerves, coach Carles Cuadrat during the pre-match press conference jokingly said, ‘if there is a penalty to be taken, Parag won’t take it.’
On Wednesday night against Maziya S&RC in the AFC Cup playoff, barely minutes after coming on, Parag stepped up to take the all-important first spot-kick in sudden-death. The 22-year-old didn’t even hit the target.
In hindsight, the decision to use Parag seemed baffling, for there were more experienced and cooler heads like Juanan, Nishu Kumar and Ashique Kuruniyan on the pitch. But Cuadrat defended the move.
“Players have to take decisions, they have to know how they feel and how to go for that moment,” he said in his post-match briefing. “Every coach has a different strategy. I never force players into taking penalties. In this case, Parag decided that he can shoot and Juanan decided that he preferred to wait. I trust my players 100%.
“The luck was against us,” he added. “But the team still fought, went for the goals. Last season Rahul Bheke gave us the trophy [with the winner in the ISL final] and today he missed a penalty (in the shoot-out). Football can be cruel.”
To be part of the continental competition’s 2021 edition, BFC will have to win the ISL trophy. But there are concerns over Sunil Chhetri’s fitness. The skipper is coming back from a hamstring injury and according to Cuadrat he was scheduled to play just 30 minutes against Maziya but was forced to play close to an hour.
However, the Catalan remained optimistic of his team’s chances. “The pressure to win is always there. The team has had a lot of success — six titles in six years. But we have also experienced some tough moments; against Mohun Bagan (2015) we conceded in the last minute to lose the league. In the 2018 ISL final against Chennaiyin we were winning 1-0 but lost 3-2. We were very close here too, losing in penalties.
“But I trust my players. They never give up. They have special character. So we are going to try to reach the ISL final and fight for the trophy again. It may happen, it may not happen. But we are going to fight.”