The fourth season of Indian Super League (ISL) will come to a close when debutants Bengaluru FC take on former champions Chennaiyin FC in the final Saturday, March 17, at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru.
Bengaluru, who will have the backing of a massive home crowd, will start the final upbeat, given their 10-match unbeaten run in the lead-up to the final. However, they have will be wary of the 2015 champions, who were the first and one of the only two teams to have breached Bengaluru's fortress this season.
The Sree Kanteerava Stadium is all set to be packed to the rafters as the ultimate battle between the two southern rivals has triggered a mad rush for tickets. Recent form and superstar names matter the least in a big final as it will all boil down to handling pressure.
While a few tend to get overwhelmed by the occasion, champion players rise to the challenge and become the difference between a win and a defeat.
IBTimes India has compiled a list of five players who are capable of stealing the limelight on the big night in Bengaluru.
All eyes will be on Bengaluru FC's captain and crowd favorite Chhetri, who is heading into the final on the back of his first hat-trick of the season.
The India captain led Albert Roca's side from the front Sunday, March 11, in the semi-final second leg at home against FC Pune City after the drawn first leg in Margao. He slotted in three goals to help his team storm into the final in Bengaluru's first-ever ISL season.
Chhetri is known for stepping up under pressure. Having starred for Bengaluru in crucial AFC Cup games over the years, the 33-year-old is expected to stay composed and get the job done for the home team Saturday.
In the ongoing season, Chhetri's combination with Miku has worked wonders for the finalists. The two have gone on to score 27 of the team's 38 goals between them so far with the local hero trailing the Venezuelan striker by a goal.
Jeje Lalpekhlua went through a lean patch in the run-up to the knockout stages of the tournament, leading to growing concerns in the Chennaiyin camp and among the fans.
However, with the backing of coach John Gregory, the former Mohun Bagan star ended a seven-game goal drought in Chennaiyin's 4-1 win (aggregate) over FC Goa in the semi-final.
Known for being in the right place at the right time, the Mizo has already found the back of the net nine times in the ongoing league season. Jeje's ability to carve space by spraying it into the wings has helped Chennaiyin attack through the wings and trouble the oppositions' backlines.
With renewed confidence and the urge to lift the title with Chennaiyin for the second time, the lone striker will be raring to go when the final kicks off in Bengaluru on Saturday.
The Venezuelan striker has been on top of his game ever since he signed up for Bengaluru FC as the league's most expensive foreign player ahead of the ongoing season.
The 32-year-old tops Bengaluru's scorers' chart with 14 goals and has played a massive role in taking the pressure off Chhetri's shoulders. Known for his work rate, Miku can also drop down to assist the defense when needed.
The former Valencia and Getafe striker's experience of playing at the top-tier in Spain might just come in handy for Bengaluru, who are on the brink of creating history.
Chennaiyin FC's success under English tactician Gregory can be attributed to the faith the team has shown in its Indian midfielders.
The likes of Dhanapal Ganesh, Bikramjit Singh and Anirudh Thapa have been key members of the Marina Machan, who have made it to their second final in four seasons.
The young midfielder, known for his speed and control, has already made 15 appearances and has scored twice for the former champions this season.
The 20-year-old should be high on confidence ahead of the final as he had scored the crucial equalizer after coming off the bench for Chennaiyin during their semi-final against FC Goa on the road.
It will be interesting to see how coach Gregory uses the power-packed central midfielder in the final. Will he be the super-sub yet again for the visitors Saturday?
Gurpreet has been on top of his game in his maiden season for Bengaluru FC. With seven clean sheets in 18 league appearance, the 26-year-old shot-stopper has played a key role in helping Roca's men concede the least number of goals (17) in the league and the knockout stages.
The former East Bengal goalkeeper, who is eyeing his maiden title at the top flight of Indian football, has the ability to single-handedly blunt opposition attacks.
Gurpreet will be heading into the big night on the back of crucial saves in the semi-final second leg against Pune City at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium.
Fine margins will separate the winner and the loser Saturday and the first-choice India custodian has it in him to become the difference between the two sides.