AFC Cup semifinal: Bengaluru holds Johor to 1-1 draw in first leg

Bengaluru FC held defending champion Johor Darul Ta'zim to a 1-1 draw, grabbing a vital away goal, in the first leg of the AFC Cup semifinals in the city of Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

Bengaluru FC skipper Sunil Chhetri (R) in action against Johor Darul Ta'zim in the AFC Cup semifinal.   -  the-afc.com

A stunning left-footed strike by Eugeneson Lyngdoh earned Bengaluru FC a 1-1 draw and a crucial away goal in its AFC Cup first leg semifinal match against defending champion Johor Darul Ta’zim here today.

Lyngdoh fired in a left-footed screamer from well outside the box to the left corner of the Johor net in the 57th minute after Jorge Pereyra Diaz had put the home side ahead in the 53rd minute at the Tan Sri Dato’ Haji Hassan Yunos Stadium.

The draw would give an advantage to the I-League champion in its quest for a historic final appearance in the AFC Cup, the continent’s second tier club competition. The second leg of the semifinals will be played on October 19 at the Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru.

No Indian club has ever made it to the final of the AFC Cup. Bengaluru FC is only the third Indian club to have made it to the semifinals of the AFC Cup, after Dempo (2008) and East Bengal (2013).

Today’s match was the third time these two sides met in this edition of the tournament. Bengaluru and Johor were clubbed together in the group stage and the Malaysian giant had won both the home and away group matches.

But today was a new day with Bengaluru denying the defending champion the dominance it had during the group stage.

Alberto Roca, who was in charge of Bengaluru for only the third match, went for a high-pressing game in the first session and his charges had better possession of the initial period of the first half though without having a clear look at the opposition goal. Bengaluru goalkeeper Arminder Singh kept the visitor in contention with a point-blank save to keep out a Martin Lucero header in the 27th minute.

Johor began to take control of the match after the initial period but could not do anything worthwhile as the first 45 minute ended without any goal.

The home side began to press for a goal in the second session and Diaz rose higher than anybody to nod the ball home from a Safiq Rahim corner in the 53rd minute. It looked like Johor’s first goal may break the back of the Bengaluru resistance but Roca’s charges had none of it and found the equaliser four minutes later when Lyngdoh sent a screamer into the net from 22 yards to silence the 18,410-strong crowd.

Lyngdoh took possession of the ball halfway inside the Johor half, sidestepped a few opposition defenders before cracking a left footer a few metres outside the ‘D’ and beat the goalkeeper all ends up.

The equaliser lifted the Indian side as it withstood sustained periods of pressure from Johor, especially in the final moments of the game. In the end, Bengaluru came out unscathed to leave Malaysia with a precious away goal and a hard-earned draw.

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