Bengaluru FC have been a breath of fresh air in Indian club football, and their secret lies beyond just the football field. Since the club's inception in 2013, they have picked up two I-League titles in three seasons in 2016, even though Ashley Westwood often missed some of his best players through injury.
The middle of the year was uncertain for Bengaluru, with Westwood eventually parting ways in June, having seen them through to the round of 16 of the AFC Cup, where they won away to Kitchee in Hong Kong.
Westwood's replacement was Albert Roca, formerly an assistant to Frank Rijkaard at Barcelona, who brought along a few replacements among the foreigners. Bengaluru would then embark on a four-match unbeaten run in the AFC Cup, including a top-class 3-1 home win (4-2 on aggregate) against defending champions Johor Darul Ta'zim of Malaysia. Their fightback began away in Malaysia, where Eugenson Lyngdoh scored a scorching long-range effort to tie the match 1-1 in the second half.
Bengaluru trailed 1-0 at home as well, but kept the intensity of their game high, and handed a perfect gift to their coach, whose birthday fell on the day immediately after the semi-final home leg. Captain Sunil Chhetri led the way with two goals, while Lyngdoh contributed two of the assists.
This would set up a final showdown with Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya (Air Force Club) of Iraq in November. This was the first time an Indian club had gotten past the semi-finals of the continental competition, and the first Asia-wide final an Indian team was playing since an Asian Games final for the national team in 1962.
Bengaluru would lose the final 1-0, played in Doha, Qatar, and Roca was brutally honest in his assessment, saying, "I think we have to look forward (about Indian football) and we must be honest. We can say these guys were here in the final because they deserved that, but not enough to win. We have to work hard and be more competitive than today."