Bengaluru FC exits AFC Cup after 3-2 aggregate loss to Istiklol

Needing to win by a two-goal margin to progress to the final, BFC fell short by a few notches. The match ended in a 2-2 draw, allowing FC Istiklol to advance. Istiklol will face defending champion Air Force Club in the summit clash, on November 4.

FC Istiklol celebrates after winning the AFC Cup inter-zonal play-off final against Bengaluru FC on Wednesday.   -  V. Sreenivasa Murthy

 

A 10-man Bengaluru FC (BFC) fell to the might of FC Istiklol and exited the AFC Cup at the inter-zone play-off final stage here on Wednesday.

Needing to win by a two-goal margin to progress to the final, BFC fell short by a few notches. The match ended in a 2-2 draw, allowing FC Istiklol to advance. Istiklol will face defending champion Air Force Club in the summit clash, on November 4.

BFC came undone after a disastrous start, conceding a penalty in the second minute. Goalkeeper Gurpreet Sandhu and Lenny Rodrigues were both hesitant in their attempt to reach the ball in the box. It was Rodrigues who brought down the visiting attacker, but the referee showed a yellow card to Gurpreet instead. Davronov Nuriddin converted from the spot, leaving BFC with a mountain to climb.

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Centre-back Rahul Bheke gave BFC a lifeline, when he headed home from a short corner. The side needed two more goals, if it was to erase the 1-0 deficit suffered in the first leg of the tie.

Istiklol, however, posed a constant threat with its smooth, quick and efficient counter-attacks. One of these terrific plays saw BFC lose a man in Harmanjot Khabra. The right-back was hopelessly out of position as Dmitri Barkov charged forward. A desperate Khabra took out his rival with a rough, silly tackle, and was sent off with a second yellow card.

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When the second-half started, BFC still had an outside chance of pulling off a miracle. These dreams received a rude awakening when Istiklol scored a wonderful goal in the 56th minute. It started with a sublime piece of skill from Fathuloev Fathullo, who cut inside after outsmarting two markers. Fathullo laid it off for Dzhalilov Manuchehr, who in turn slid in a through ball to Barkov. An unmarked Barkov slotted it past the 'keeper, sparking off wild celebrations. BFC appealed for off-side, but it looked like left-back Nishu Kumar had played Barkov on-side.

BFC now needed three goals to make the cut. Skipper Sunil Chhetri managed to score a penalty to make it 2-2, but it was not nearly enough.

"This is huge moment for football in Tajikistan. When we were part of the Soviet Union, our football was of a higher standard. But now, I feel that Tajikistan football is being revived by the success of our side. Reaching the AFC Cup final is a great occasion for the people of our country," Istiklol coach Mukhamadiev Mukhatib said.

BFC Head Coach Albert Roca criticised the referee for awarding the early penalty. "The referee made a mistake at an important time. They have to improve," Roca said.

The result:

BFC 2 (Rahul Bheke 24, Sunil Chhetri 65) drew with FC Istiklol 2 (Davronov Nuriddin 3, Dmitri Barkov 56).

FC Istiklol won 3-2 on aggregate

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