Bengaluru FC's dream run to Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup may have ended agonisingly with a defeat in the final but coach Albert Roca said the achievement of his boys may trigger a new era in Indian football.
Bengaluru lost 0-1 in the final in Doha on Saturday to Iraq's Air Force Club. They were the first Indian club to reach the final of the prestigious continental tournament.
"I am really proud of my players. They have proved that to be here in the final is not easy. They deserve to be here and going forward it's the beginning of a new era," Roca said.
"We can see that competing at this level is very tough so there's a lot of work to be done and we have to look forward to being in a final again and doing better. Indian clubs have never shown incredible levels of football but we have started here and we cannot stop."
Gracious in defeat, Roca had no qualms admitting that Bengaluru fell short against a better team and the result, as much as it hurt, was a fair one.
"I want to congratulate Air Force Club. They were superior on the day and deserve to win the title. From the first moment, we saw that we weren't comfortable on the ball. The players of Air Force Club are also at a level that perhaps we cannot achieve at the moment. It was a level of football that we've never experienced before," he said.
The Spanish coach praised goalkeeper Lalthuammawia Ralte, playing his first competitive game since April and coming in for a suspended Amrinder Singh, who produced several saves to keep his team in the contest.
""Mawia did brilliantly and congratulations to him for his performance. He prevented some good opportunities for Air Force Club as they created a few chances to kill the game in the second half. I am very happy for him."
Despite being under pressure, Roca said his boys deserve every compliment received for making it this far.
"I have to be honest to say that if the players have reached the final, it is because they deserve it. Maybe we didn't do enough to lift the title but we have achieved the level to permit us to be here," he said.
"We have a lot of things to do, we have to progress as a side and in doing that, we'll be here again. In the coming months and in the coming matches, we have to be more competitive than we were today."