Bengaluru: A war of words has broken out after an entertaining Indian Super League final with Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory taking exception to Bengaluru FC goalkeeper Gurpreet Sandhu's "we won league stage and so we are champions" quip, saying his team has won the crown fair and square.
Chennaiyin defeated Bengaluru 3-2 in the summit clash to clinch the title of the fourth edition of ISL at the Kanteerava Stadium here last night. Just after the match ended, Bengaluru and India number one goalkeeper Gurpreet said "we are the champions because we won the league stage."
Asked at the post-match conference about Gurpreet's comments, Chennaiyin head coach Gregory said, "I was honestly disappointed to hear these words. We won the cup is what I know. A large number of countries use this format. Play-offs were introduced in the UK about 20 years ago. You could finish sixth in your division and still win promotion to the Premiership. You could finish 20 points behind the champion. In my years, we did it, we finished sixth well behind Portsmouth and then won promotion," said the former Aston Villa boss.
Bengaluru had finished at the top in the league stage, eight points ahead of second-placed Chennaiyin and then stormed into the final after clinching a two-leg semifinal play-offs against FC Pune City. "Everybody knows we finished first, eight points above Chennaiyin. We are human beings, the players did an incredible job. I am sad for them and the fans. But that's football," Bengaluru FC head coach Albert Roca said.
He said it's left for others to judge whether the structure of the tournament was fair or needs to be changed to reward the teams which finish top of the league stage. "It is too easy for him to say yes. I think even some of their (Chennaiyin) players came to us and said we should not have been in this situation. The tournament is like it is and we cannot change that. It is not for me to say that is fair or not. It is for you to say," he added.
Bengaluru and India captain Sunil Chhetri expressed disappointment. "The fact is that we had 40 points and won the league stage. Sadly, we could not win the final."
Gregory praised Mailson Alves for his two crucial strikes which saw Chennaiyin win their second ISL title. "Big man (Mailson) had scored twice all season, but has had lot of opportunities. Today he couldn't have connected any better for both goals, which were almost identical."
He said he was delighted to hear the final whistle after a long season, especially after Bengaluru had reduced the margin by one goal in the dying minutes of the final match. "We showed a lot of gumption. We did not let anything bother us. This was a big obstacle, playing against the home team in a final. They are just an incredible group of players."
Gregory lauded captain Henrique Sereno for braving an injury and yet playing the entire match.