A perfect free-kick from the irrepressible Sunil Chhetri powered Bengaluru FC (BFC) past Maziya Sports and Recreation Club and into the AFC Cup inter-zone play-off semi-final. The win, in this final round of Group ‘E’ matches, took BFC (12 points) to the top of the points table. Though level on points with Maziya S&RC, the home team earned a spot in the knockout round on the basis of a better head-to-head record.
Nothing short of three points would have sufficed for BFC, and the side found its saviour in Chhetri. With the score locked at 0-0 in the second-half, the skipper stepped up to take a spot-kick from just outside the box. A sweet right-footed shot flew over the wall and curled into the top corner, leaving the goalkeeper stranded. All doubts surrounding Chhetri’s fitness - a topic of concern leading into this game - well and truly vanished.
Maziya S&RC, needing only a draw to qualify, scuffed a golden opportunity to pull level soon after the restart. A tense scramble in the penalty area saw the ball roll kindly to midfielder Adey, who sprayed his attempt wide despite having an open goal in front of him. It was a shocking miss, and Maziya S&RC paid a heavy price for it.
The encounter was otherwise marked by an energetic performance by BFC. Albert Roca’s men pressed forward with purpose, with Nishu Kumar and C.K. Vineeth excelling with some electric play.
Maziya S&RC - led by the towering Romanian Andrei Cordos - managed to stay strong in defence. The visitor even came close to going 1-0 ahead, when in the 17th minute, Aleksandar Rakic’s header rattled the post. The unit made several fine runs on the counter-attack, but could not find the back of the net.
BFC will now play a knock-out tie consisting of home and away rubbers, in August this year. Maziya S&RC, on the other hand, was shown the door.
An upset Maziya coach Marjan Sekulovski alleged that his team was not with treated with respect by the opposition. "My congratulations to BFC, but I didn't see any fair play on their part today. Their defender Sandesh Jhingan kicked our player off the ball. Jhingan kicked our players five times - quite similar to this - in the previous leg at Male too," he said.
A pleased Roca said, "It was a tough match for us. We knew that we would do well not to concede a goal, as we have fine players like Chhetri who can convert chances."
BFC 1 (Sunil Chhetri 57’) beat Maziya S&RC 0.
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